By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Becoming a full World Trade Organisation (WTO) member will be "devastating" for Bahamian farmers because they are "not prepared" for the competitive demands of liberalised trade regimes.
Caron Shepherd, president of the Farmers United Cooperative, told Tribune Business: "Farmers are not in agreement with WTO because the farmers are not prepared for it. That is the long and short of it. There were no systematic plans put in place for agriculture and fisheries for WTO.
"It would be devastating because you would have local farmers who are not prepared, and other parts of the world who have been preparing and are in a better position than we are to substantiate WTO."
She added: "The biggest question I have asked is: Which country has benefited from WTO and are better off today? It begs the question whether WTO is beneficial for farmers and fishermen. We can legally export anything we have, but it is not on a large scale at this time.
"What benefit does WTO bring to the table? Right now there is trade war going on between China and the US. Both of them are issuing sanctions against each other, and every other day there is some sanction. How would we stand up against big players like that?
Zhivargo Laing, The Bahamas' chief WTO negotiator, recently suggested on his Guardian Radio programme that The Bahamas was unlikely to meet the June 2020 WTO accession deadline set by the Minnis administration.
He suggested that the process might take several more years to complete, and hinted that the government was sensitive to the political (election vote) implications given the level of opposition to joining the WTO from some elements in Bahamian society.
Ms Shepherd, meanwhile, said there remains tremendous potential in this nation's agricultural and fisheries sectors that needs to be harnessed. She reiterated, though, that several long-standing obstacles and bottlenecks need to be addressed for this to happen.
Among the proposals suggested by Farmers United is that registered local farmers be given a Visa-type card to purchase and bring in goods as necessary without "the red tape". "We would like to extend the leases from 20 to 40 years for those who are consistently farming, and not those looking at manipulating the land to eventually turn it into a subdviision," Ms Shepherd added.
"We don't agree with that. There is a lot of potential for farming and fishing; it just needs to be harnessed and the product needs to be improved."