By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet minister yesterday said full Bahamian membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) "cannot happen for at least within the next five years".
Elsworth Johnson, minister of financial services, trade and industry and immigration, told the House of Assembly: "Recently we had the experience with the World Trade Organisation, and I note that there was a lot of furore in the community as to whether or not The Bahamas would join or not join, but now we know that that cannot happen for at least within the next five years."
Mr Johnson's views echo those previously voiced by the government's WTO chief negotiator, Zhivargo Laing, who said that joining in the current administration's term was "95 percent unlikely". He also added that it may not happen within the next decade.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson also said: "Our international partners as well as our chief negotiator and my predecessor in office [Brent Symonette] all recognise that the accession process to WTO was purely aspirational. But coming out of that experience we have to continue our educational process in terms of how we approach the whole question of how we join the WTO."
Noting that The Bahamas is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that is not a full WTO member, Mr Johnson said this will affect The Bahamas whether it is "at the table or whether you are not at the table.
"There is a number of legislation that are important to our way of life in The Bahamas, and I would just like to speak to a few of them," he added. "You have the tariff rate quota regulations, the animal health food and safety and plant regulations, the Protection of New Plants Varieties Bill, the Procurement Bill and a number of others.
"The Customs Management regulations. The intellectual properties regulations. We have drafted the Bill so we need the regulations. For too long we have allowed people to abuse our intellectual properties."
Speaking to the aperitif, Campari, as an example, Mr Johnson said The Bahamas produces the bark that is used to create it, but has allowed others "just to use it" and "doesn't have a copyright on it". He also spoke to Bahamian rake n' scrape group, Lassie Doe and the Boys, whose music is not protected by copyright.
Mr Johnson said: "We have to move quickly, and everything about joining the WTO wasn't wrong. There was the report produced by the Chamber of Commerce, an excellent report that outlined what the effects were from, joining the WTO."
In May 2019, international consultancy firm, Oxford Economics, commissioned by the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation, released a paper detailing the possible effects on industry the Bahamas faced when joining the WTO.