By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Bahamas must carefully examine the “many complex challenges” presented by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to avoid any “undue missteps” in joining, a governance reformer is urging.
Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance’s (ORG) principal, backed the position that The Bahamas should not set a self-imposed deadline by which it must complete negotiations to become a full WTO member.
He said: “This would be the responsible action given that the reality is they are not ready. There are a number of laws, tax reforms, regulations and people that must be installed prior to any accession that would be good for the Bahamas and its citizenry.
“WTO accession presents many complex challenges that should be carefully considered and vetted by all stakeholders so as to avoid any undue missteps that might potentially disadvantage Bahamians and their opportunity for growth and development.”
He spoke out after Elsworth Johnson, newly-appointed minister of financial services, trade and industry and Immigration, told Tribune Business had been advised even the World Trade Organisation (WTO) itself felt the accession timeline set by The Bahamas was “extremely rigid”.
Mr Johnson described the June 2020 target for The Bahamas to become a full WTO member as “purely aspirational”, and not one that must be met at all costs. He pledged that The Bahamas would not become a member of rules-based trading’s global overseer if the terms “are not in the best interests” of the country.
Mr Johnson’s predecessor, Brent Symonette, had previously indicated in an interview with this newspaper that the Minnis administration had decided to complete The Bahamas’ accession to full WTO membership, and was aiming to finish negotiations by December 2019. That would have allowed this nation’s joining to be ratified at the next full WTO meeting in June 2020.
He, however, admitted that this timeline was “ambitious”, and the sheer scope of the negotiations - as well as the extent of the legislative, regulatory and other reforms that The Bahamas needs to enact to make itself WTO compliant - have made a June 2020 deadline increasingly unlikely.
Zhivargo Laing, The Bahamas’ chief WTO negotiator, also recently used his Guardian Radio programme to suggest that The Bahamas was unlikely to meet the June 2020 deadline. He added that the process might take several more years to complete, and hinted the government was sensitive to the political implications given the level of opposition to joining the WTO from some elements in Bahamian society.