By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Bahamas must carefully assess whether it would benefit from the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) much-touted dispute resolution processes, an ex-Bar Association chief is warning.
Dr Peter Maynard said the “embarrassing” case of Antigua and Barbuda, and its inability to enforce a ruling against the US over online gaming, should give The Bahamas pause for thought.
Speaking ahead of his annual arbitration and investment summit this Friday, he told Tribune Business: “It is something we seriously have to consider as we move forward in this accession process. How does WTO handle disputes? We know that the WTO has the embarrassing case, in my view, of Antigua and Barbuda. They (Antigua and Barbuda) won a case in the WTO and can’t get compensation. That is something we have to look at. We’re going to be looking at the WTO and dispute resolution at this summit.”
Critics of the WTO have often cited the 15 year-long dispute between the US and Antigua and Barbuda over internet gambling as evidence that the WTO lacks “teeth” to enforce its rulings and cannot ensure fair play for smaller nations such as The Bahamas.
The dispute between the two countries stemmed from the US government’s efforts to prohibit Americans from gambling at online sites domiciled in Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua and Barbuda won the right to suspend its obligations to the US in respect of intellectual property rights to recover $2m annually, but reportedly has not acted on that authorisation in the hopes of reaching a fair settlement.
“We need to look at very closely at the same questions we have been discussing since 1967 on how to diversify the economy,” Dr Maynard added. “Since then Carlton Francis was talking about infant industry and the idea that we encourage Bahamians to get involved in industry and put up walls of protection to make it happen; not to follow WTO.
“It wasn’t an accident that we didn’t join the WTO because the idea then was to give everyone a chance to get into business - infant industry - but at some point they expect to wean you off. The public is taking a hit after all, and is better off if you drop all these barriers because they want to buy things cheaper. It was decided to allow Bahamians to prosper for a while. We have to look at whether we failed at the infant industry idea, or do we want to keep our options open.”