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Super Value Chief Warns On Potential Paper Plant Close

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Super Value’s principal has warned he may have to close his paper manufacturing plant due to tariff cuts, as he called on the government to outline WTO’s benefits instead of attacking him.

photo

Rupert Roberts

Rupert Roberts, pictured, told Tribune Business he was surprised that the government’s chief World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiator, Zhivargo Laing, has chosen to criticise the basis for his opposition to The Bahamas joining the rules-based trading regime rather than laying out the advantages of doing so.

Arguing that it was “imperative” that the Government make the case for The Bahamas’ accession to full WTO membership, Mr Roberts argued that its failure to do so to-date made him question whether it had something to hide.

And, while Mr Laing had pledged that the retail and wholesale sectors were “off the table” when it came to the WTO talks, as they were “reserved” areas for Bahamian ownership only, Mr Roberts argued there was little to no “trust” in government’s ability - and will - to maintain this.

Previous governments have already waived this restriction, two prime examples being Winn-Dixie’s long-running ownership of the City Markets food chain and the more recent acquisition of Bahamas Food Services (BFS), the largest food wholesaler, by US giant Sysco from another American company, Beaver Street Fisheries.

Mr Roberts, meanwhile, questioned whether recent tariff reductions were implemented as part of WTO membership preparations. He specifically pointed to the tariff cut involving imported paper, which was reduced from 45 percent to 25 percent in the 2017-2018 budget, and immediately impacted his plant that manufactures bathroom tissue for Super Value and its competitors.

“We had a 45 percent protective tariff on paper, bathroom tissue, and they took that down to 25 percent,” the Super Value chief recalled, adding that local manufacturing “employs a large number of Bahamians”.

“When they did that I should have shut the plant down. I’m now waiting for some profit and loss statement. If it’s not favourable I will have to shut it down and sell the equipment.”

Mr Laing told this newspaper on Friday that he and every member of the Government’s negotiating team was “keenly aware” of the need to ensure the “viability” of Bahamian manufacturers and farmers post-WTO accession, with the strategy being to maintain or increase tariffs on imported rivals while still achieving the WTO’s mandated 15 percent average rate.

“I texted the minister this morning,” Mr Roberts added. “If Laing is serious he should give us the protective tariff back on paper before I close the plant..... Surely the intend to keep the manufacturing rather than wipe it out.

“If they did, maybe bleach would sell for a little bit less and imported water would sell for half the price if they took the tariff off. But I’m not advocating for that. We need to create this local labour.”

Mr Laing on Friday had told Tribune Business that Mr Roberts’ opposition to The Bahamas joining the WTO was founded on “illusion and fiction”, and had little to no basis in fact.

But the Super Value chief, emphasising that he had nothing personal against the former Cabinet minister, questioned why Mr Laing had focused on responding to him rather than trying to sell the private sector and Bahamians on the merits of full WTO membership.

“He still did not enumerate the benefits in his criticism,” Mr Roberts told Tribune Business. “I’m surprised he criticised me. I gave him the opportunity to enumerate the benefits of WTO, and he didn’t. He had another opportunity to outline the benefits and passed that up to criticise somebody that didn’t agree with him.”

Calling on the Government to make the case for WTO membership, he added: “It is imperative that they do that. It has to be done. The Government has to show the people. It’s surprising, and makes you think there’s some sort of trick in the wind because they’ve not come forward and enumerated the benefits of WTO. They’re just saying: ‘Join, join, join, join.”

While Mr Laing had promised that the retail and wholesale industries were not included in the WTO negotiation accessions, Mr Roberts said current investment policy had been waived so often that few believed the terms would be set with no changes.

“The element of trust is not there,” he told Tribune Business, pointing to the City Markets and Bahamas Food Services situations. “There was even a referendum where the Government did the opposite to the result. How can we trust it? I’d rather not go there, and something changes and goes against you.

“I’m not for it because I don’t know anything about it [WTO], but what I know about I don’t want.”

Comments

proudloudandfnm 1 week, 1 day ago

Sorry Mr. Roberts but your TP sucks. I'd gladly pay $6.00 to buy your foreign competitor's brand.

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sheeprunner12 1 week, 1 day ago

Roberts has a serious point. He had to compete against a US giant for decades.......... If BFS is sold to Sysco, what is there to stop Walmart or any other US giant from coming here??? ....... Bahamians have already invested in US fast food franchises and other services ............... what is there to stop more US commercia l& retail firms from operating here once we sign on to WTO???

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mandela 1 week, 1 day ago

Whether Mr Roberts TP sucks or not, people including myself are still waiting to hear the pros and advantages of the Bahamas joining the WTO that is the real issue here, especially in a country who believes foreign is better and local is not worth anything

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sealice 1 week, 1 day ago

This fool Laing could work for any government of the Bahamas - his stupidity appears to be quite pure and clear.....

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sheeprunner12 1 week, 1 day ago

Yep ......... not smart of him to attack a top tier Bahamian businessman like Mr. Roberts ........ Ppl will begin to believe that he is the PM & DPM pitbull on the WTO .......... Laing uses a lot of bluff, but little substance about HOW regular, ordinary lunch-pail Bahamians will benefit from WTO.

This sounds like Webshops 2.0 all over again ........... PEP Collusion

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Economist 1 week, 1 day ago

What Mr. Roberts needs to do is hire a professional who will be able to provide the Bahamas Negotiating Team with the information necessary to provide "reasonable" terms that will allow the paper company to compete. Bahamian businesses, like Mr. Roberts, don't utilize lawyers or accountants to advise in these matters. Foreign companies do and have done for decades. Time that Bahamian businesses joined the real world in the 21st Century.

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The_Oracle 1 week, 1 day ago

Laing cannot explain what the effects will be, he doesn't know. Nor will he consult with those who might, but who will invariable disagree with him. Incompetent negotiation does not benefits reap. Meanwhile wholesale and retail cannot be carved out for Bahamians, Foreign entities are already in this arena in the Bahamas. To block any others would be discriminatory. "most favored Nation" means there can be no favorites!

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Well_mudda_take_sic 1 week, 1 day ago

Laing is a very handsomely compensated lobbyist of Red China. He is being rewarded by Red China for promoting and representing their very keen interest in having the Bahamas join the WTO. Laing is all about Laing and could not care less about the interests of the Bahamian people.

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SP 1 week, 1 day ago

Dumbass 49% is the same as 51% Zhivargo Laing has always been lobbying prostitute! This clowns loyalty is 100% to his bank account balance!

If WTO had any benefit for the Bahamas, Laing would have simply brought in individuals from other Caribbean States to explain to the Bahamian businessmen how WTO has benefited them.

Stupid Laing is singing for his supper, but totally unable to find one single individual ANYWHERE that has anything remotely positive about having joined the WTO!

Nobody anywhere on the planet, besides this idiot Laing, has anything positive to say about WTO.

The Bahamas should throw WTO AND Laing out with the dishwater...and lock the door!!!

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TheMadHatter 1 week, 1 day ago

Exactly. All WTO will do is replace white slave masters with Chinese slave masters. Bahamians won't even get new shiny shackles. The same old rusty ones 'round ya ankle.

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bcitizen 1 week, 1 day ago

The WTO is a trade agreement that cannot be left or easily alterred after signing on and has no end date to the treaty. Has there been a referendum on joining? No! Has either party in the last 20 years run a campaign or seriously promoted joing as a major part of their campaign? No! Good, bad, right or wrong. It is undemocratic for a elected 4-5 year government to enter our country into a agreement that a new government cannot easily get us out of or alter without meeting any of the previously mentioned conditions.

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