By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet minister yesterday pushed back at misinformation over The Bahamas’ planned Word Trade Organisation (WTO) accession, arguing that this nation “must do things differently”.
Brent Symonette, minister of financial services, trade and industry and Immigration, stressed during his contribution to the 2019-2020 Budget debate that the Government is taking steps to protect vulnerable domestic producers such as farmers and manufacturers in becoming a full member of world trade’s governing body.
Praising the Oxford Economics report on the impact of WTO accession, which was commissioned by the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC), Mr Symonette said it had been “a great help to us”.
“The report shows that WTO accession can be used as a tool to lock-in friendly reforms, modernise the country and, even better, unlock the country’s growth potential,” said Mr Symonette.
“In order for us to grow this economy we must do things differently, and address aspects of our economy which require changes as we seek to operate. We have to move forward and change the way we accept the whole question of globalisation.
“Membership in the WTO is not automatic; neither is it one-size fits all. Today, most trade agreements between states tend to be reciprocal in nature and must be negotiated. That is what we are doing.”
Responding to what he described as misconceptions surrounding WTO accession, Mr Symonette said: “Those out there saying the Government will reduce all tariffs to zero, that is wrong, erroneous misinformation.
“We are seeking to ensure that the sensitive manufacturing and agricultural products will be protected, and have current or higher applied rates. We’re moving on a tariff quota from approximately 32 percent down to 15 percent. In some cases these rates have actually been increased.”
He added: “We import tons of chicken. We do not produce enough chicken locally for what we consume. The whole idea with the WTO accession process is to negotiate a safeguard or a protection for a certain number of tonnes of chicken, wherein after that the duty is incredibly high so we protect Bahamian farmers.
“That is what we are doing with all of the sensitive areas. We are protecting the maximum bound rate. We need to look at incentivising our farmers.” Mr Symonette said offering Bahamian farmers subsidies for feed and fertilizers did not go against WTO rules.
Speaking to the some of government’s legislative plans, Mr Symonette said: “There are a whole number of issues. We need to deal with the Foreign Investment Bill, which will seek to codify the national investment policy. Any time someone wants to invest in the country they have to come to the National Economic Council. We have just done an IDB-funded project to make sure that is more streamlined.
“We are in the process of drafting and circulating a Competition Bill so that we have fair competition, which protects Bahamians and also non-Bahamians who want to trade with us. We are looking at tariff rate quota regulations which will protect famers in this country. We need to look at anti-dumping regulations as well, intellectual property regulations.”