Stop The Wto 'Scare Tactics'

By Neil Hartnell

Tribune Business Editor


WTO opponents must stop using “inaccurate scare tactics” to intimidate The Bahamas from joining world trade’s rules setter, a prominent local attorney charged yesterday.

Carey Leonard, the former Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) in-house counsel, told Tribune Business there was plentiful evidence from elsewhere in the Caribbean to prove that small businesses and ‘Mom and Pop’ stores “will not be wiped out” upon this country becoming a World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The now-Callenders & Co attorney, pointing out that FOCOL Holdings’ acquisition of Shell’s local assets demonstrated how Bahamian companies can buy-out multinational interests, said the recently-released Oxford Economics report had reinforced his belief that the Government was right to finally complete this nation’s 18-year accession bid.

He argued that “part of the struggle” was the private sector’s failure to hire advisers “who know what’s going on with the WTO” until the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) commissioned that study.

Bahamian businesses, Mr Leonard said, “might not be so frightened” of WTO and its potential implications if they had engaged consultants to guide them through the process and explain what trade-related jargon meant.

Warning that it was the private sector’s responsibility to provide the necessary “ammunition” to the Government’s WTO negotiating team, so that The Bahamas could obtain the best accession terms possible, the Callenders & Co attorney added that “moaning” and wishing to retain the economic status quo “doesn’t cut it”.

He reiterated that The Bahamas would fail to enact the necessary governance, structural and ease of doing business reforms to improve this nation’s economic competitiveness without the pressure of WTO forcing it into change.

“From what I’ve read so far,” Mr Leonard said of the report, “it seems to me we should be doing it because we as a country are not going to enact the necessary changes the Oxford Economics people talk about unless forced to do so by the WTO, quite frankly.

“It will drive a lot of this; it won’t do it all, but it will force us into a position where we can finish the job. It’s quite clear that if we do it properly it can help us so much. As a country we tend to do it last minute, and only when we’ve really got to do it to survive. Everything I’ve read so far I agree with.”

The Oxford Economics study concluded that The Bahamas will only maximise the benefits of full WTO membership if it combines accession with broad-based domestic economic reforms that tackle this nation’s long-standing governance, transparency, red tape and ease and cost of doing business weaknesses.

Should The Bahamas adopt this approach, Oxford Economics estimated it could lift the economy’s long-run average annual GDP growth rate to around 2 percent - higher than the 1.5 percent currently forecast by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It also projected that this would help slash The Bahamas’ national unemployment rate from its current 10 percent to 6.5 percent over the next decade, driving it to its lowest level this century.

“The positive effects would quickly build in subsequent years, lifting the average growth rate of the economy to 2 percent per annum across the forecast, compared with 1.5 percent per annum in the baseline. By the end of the forecast period in 2029, this leaves the economy 5.7 percent larger than baseline levels,” Oxford Economics said.

Mr Leonard, noting the report’s conclusion that the Government may have to relinquish its iron grip on the foreign direct investment (FDI) approval process in return for maintaining tariffs that protect Bahamian manufacturers, said the end to “opaque” rules and processes that this implies will be another benefit from full WTO membership.

“The other point I have raised is everybody’s complaining that Wal-Mart is going to come in here,” he told Tribune Business, “but please remember Shell is now run by a Bahamian company in FOCOL, and Winn-Dixie, which owned City Markets, has been replaced by a Bahamian company in the shape of AML Foods, the Solomon’s owner.

“It’s not the case that everybody is going to be forced out. The little man is not going to lose out. Go everywhere in the Caribbean and you still find ‘Mom and Pop’ operations. A lot of the scare tactics, and I call them scare tactics, are not accurate.... Yes, there are going to be changes, but sometimes you need to change to improve things.”

Mr Leonard questioned who was advising Super Value principal Rupert Roberts, who has come out strongly against The Bahamas joining the WTO, even though the Oxford Economics report confirms that retail and wholesale services can be reserved for Bahamian ownership only in the accession negotiations by not including them in this nation’s offer.

“I’ve only been approached by one company to assist them with WTO, and the Government’s negotiating team has already done 50 percent of the work we’ve wanted,” he said. One of the successes we had was we were able to refer to key terms of the WTO, talking about small island states and special economic development zones

“A part of the problem is our business community, until the Chamber of Commerce did something, has not bothered to engage the services of people who know what’s going on with WTO. There’s a lot we can do, and our businesses might not be so frightened if they understood what WTO is and the language involved with WTO.

“We need to be able to give our negotiating team the ammunition they need to be able to negotiate,” Mr Leonard continued. “Just moaning, saying we have to leave this where it is today, is doesn’t cut it. 

“We have to explain why we need certain things in WTO terms, and you cannot expect the Government to know your business. That’s the one you’re running. Government doesn’t run your business. Before businesses go around proclaiming the end of the world, they really should get some good, proper advice.”

Mr Leonard said claims that WTO membership will result in the complete free movement of labour were another “scare tactic’, and reiterated that if The Bahamas enacted the reforms it should be making anyway - regardless of whether WTO exists or not - this nation’s economy will enjoy long-term benefits from accession.

“If we don’t join WTO we won’t feel the need to make the changes, we won’t have the desire to make the changes and, at the end of the day, we will be far worse off for not joining,” he told Tribune Business. “That’s one of the primary drivers for why we should join the WTO.”

Mr Leonard added that many Bahamians had forgotten this nation had already committed to lower/eliminate tariffs and enact other trade-related reforms as a result of signing on to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) in 2008.

The creation of agencies such as the Standards Bureau, and legislation to reform intellectual property rights, had already been driven by the EPA, and he added: “WTO is going to help us finalise all the other things we should be doing.”


Sickened 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Please someone explain to me in simple words 1) who/which Bahamian businesses will benefit from the WTO AND [AND, AND, AND] 2) how will they benefit? The AND is obviously very important.


DWW 3 months, 4 weeks ago

AS long as i get US netflix and not South American netflix and i can buy music on Itunes with a bahamian credit card and address i'm all for WTO. Anyone anyone? no? oh.


Sickened 3 months, 4 weeks ago

You're right in that we have to look for, and appreciate, the simple pleasures in life.


TheMadHatter 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Mr Leonard, it's not our responsibility to hire advisers for a damn thing. If i overhear some fellas on the blocks talking about breaking into my house tonight, should i hire advisers to tell me that i might be better off without my TV? Maybe i could lose weight by not sitting on my couch all the time?

People like you seem to think the only thing wrong with the Bahamas is that it's full of Bahamians. The WTO wont stop until we are all dead and they own our shores via mortgage agreements and treaties. We may not be rich like you, but we are not stupid enough to sign a blank agreement paper.


Well_mudda_take_sic 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Leonard's law firm in Freeport (Callenders & Co) is the same one QC Smith hails from. Among its major clients are human rights activist groups that support the Haitian invasion of our country. Can't help but wonder if Leonard's law firm has been hired by Red China's government to put pressure on the Bahamas to join the WTO. Leonard certainly sounds like a well paid spokeman for Red China's interests. Red China wants nothing more than for the Bahamas to join the WTO so that we can be invaded by their people. We shouldn't trust a word coming out of Leonard's mouth because he more likely than not speaks with a forked tongue. Joining the WTO will only compound our country's existing problems, and will do absolutely nothing to help better our economy and improve the lives of Bahamians.


Economist 3 months, 3 weeks ago

You must not have seen the ZNS report last week. He doesn't like the Chinese.


Well_mudda_take_sic 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Believe me, that wouldn't stop Carey from taking a hefty retainer from them to be their spokesman (proponent) on the Bahamas joining the WTO.


bcitizen 3 months, 3 weeks ago

The WTO is a treaty on trade with other countries that has no expiration or end date. Once you agree to what terms you join that is it. No do overs. No oh we made a mistake. No oh there is this new part of our economy we need to protect for national interests. Did the FNM as a major part of their election campaign/manifesto talk about joining the WTO? NO! Did the PLP ever as a major part of their election campaign/manifesto talk about joining the WTO? NO!

No party since independence has run an election and won with joining the WTO presented as a major policy decision they want to implement.

Without a referendum or winning a election with joining the WTO as a major plank of their campaign no 4-5 year government has the mandate to enter us into a treaty that has no expiration date that another elected government can not get us out of.

This goes against democracy and the ability to change ones destiny via the ballot box every 5 years


John 3 months, 3 weeks ago

The WTO membership (as with sister organizations) is like holding hands with others behind your back while claiming to be free and independent. But you cannot show both your hands at the same time.


joeblow 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Only someone with something to gain, at the country's expense, would support WTO!


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