By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
An anti-WTO activist yesterday said a Chamber of Commerce-commissioned study had made it harder for The Bahamas to join by highlighting the economy’s “anomalies and deficiencies”.
Paul Moss, a member of Bahamians Agitating for a Referendum on Free Trade (BARF), told Tribune Business that the Oxford Economics report had exposed how Bahamians will be “at greater risk of being marginalised in their own country” by highlighting the labour force skills gaps and poor educational achievement.
While the report’s co-authors concluded that full World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership would be “moderately positive” for The Bahamas, increasing medium and long-term GDP growth rates if accession was accompanied by broad-based reform that transformed the domestic business climate, Mr Moss said it had actually made the case for joining more difficult.
“I don’t think the report generally gives them [the Government] free access to do as they wish because the report points out all the anomalies in the economy,” he argued, “like how the education rate is not up to scratch, and that points to a serious deficiency.
“If The Bahamas is to benefit it ought to benefit Bahamians, and if Bahamians are not ready it makes no sense to me by putting them at further risk of being marginalised in their own country.”
Mr Moss continued: “In fact, I think the opposite is true. It [the Oxford Economics report] makes it more difficult to join the WTO as it points out all the latent defects in the economy that ought to be corrected before they join WTO.
“Don’t fix them as you join; fix them before you join. You fix them in the right order. If you join now this economy will be absolutely wide open as the WTO will not accept what is being put forth by the Government. I know the Government is trying to have its cake and eat it by joining and having reservations on things, but this is about opening up where one size fits all.
“I would say it [the report] makes the case more difficult for joining WTO because of the structural deficiencies pointed out, and to join with these defects you risk losing the economy of The Bahamas if you do so. They need to be fixed before you venture into this WTO. The Government has not really spoken up on this issue.”
Mr Moss said the Oxford Economics report’s findings had come as little surprise to him, adding: “I certainly knew what they’d say before they finished. I’m not surprised by it at all. It’s what I expected them to say. Nothing new.
“I have the view that the Government simply does not have a clue what it’s doing, and is going along because they want to be in the same organisation as other countries. They want to be part of that group.”
The Oxford Economics report recommended that joining the WTO be part of a much broader restructuring and repositioning strategy that created a much-improved business and investment climate in The Bahamas.
“WTO Accession can form part of a successful strategy of structural reform to modernise and liberalise the economy,” it said. “But there are legitimate concerns amongst the local population around the potential impact of increased international competition on relatively small Bahamian businesses, as well as negative effects on existing trade imbalances and the public finances.
“Decision-makers should manage the levers of market protection and competition in an effort to maximise national economic growth and avoid business and/or sector complacency and inefficiency.”