U.S. senator raises concerns over now shelved China fishing proposal
United States Senator for Florida Marco Rubio yesterday expressed concern about an agri-fisheries proposal that Bahamas Ambassador to China Andy Gomez presented to the former administration and warned that such a deal could have a “negative impact” on U.S.-Bahamas relations.
In November last year, The Nassau Guardian revealed that the Christie administration gave the green light to its embassy in Beijing to further pursue the $2.1 billion agri-fisheries joint venture proposal with the Chinese.
The former government shelved the proposal amidst the public uproar that followed the Guardian’s story.
Rubio raised concerns during the Senate hearing for U. S President Donald Trump’s nominee for ambassador to The Bahamas “Papa” Doug Manchester.
Rubio asked Manchester how he would respond if the agri-fisheries issue were to arise.
“My last question involves China and fishing rights,” Rubio said.
“Late last year, it was reported that a Bahamian government official had unauthorized talks with China to lease its waters, the waters of The Bahamas for commercial fishing to the Chinese.
“This without a doubt is concerning because Florida shores are in close proximity.
“And while these talks did not yield an agreement, we remain concerned about the potential that Chinese commercial fishing vessels which Beijing has used as a type of militia in the South China Sea, would be so close to U.S. waters and potentially involve now a dispute with American commercial and recreational fishing interests in what might be international waters, or even Bahamian waters.
“If confirmed, have you given any thought to how we would approach this issue with the Bahamian government, if that were to arise?”
In response to Rubio’s question, Manchester said if he were to be confirmed as ambassador to The Bahamas he would ensure that all the U.S. does to protect The Bahamas is continually emphasized.
“Well, I really believe that the presence of homeland security and our coast guard off the shore and all that we are doing to protect The Bahamas really needs to be continually emphasized to the Bahamian government,” he said.
“Even though China has in fact made a significant economic contribution to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas in the form of hotel resorts and so on and so forth, we just need to encourage more business from America to be there.”
Manchester said he has already been in talks with people with regard to The University of The Bahamas and the possibility of instituting a medical school and encouraging medical instrumentation to be manufactured in The Bahamas.
He added, “and to do everything we possibly can to allow for America’s interest to continually be appreciated and as a result of being appreciated, certainly protecting our rights with regard to fishing and other security issues.”
In response to Manchester, Rubio emphasized the significance such a deal would have on the United States and The Bahamas.
“And again to be clear, that conversation that happened, it was an unauthorized discussion between a member of the government and the Chinese government,” Rubio said.
“But all of these things you’ve pointed to, security, cooperation, economic interrelations, medical school, economic contributions, all of these things would be endangered if at any point in the future, and I am not saying that it’s going to happen, and it’s certainly not a threat but it’s just the reality, if at any point in the future the Bahamian government considered leasing its waters for commercial fishing to the Chinese, at the expense of the United States, so close to our shores, I think that would most certainly have a negative impact on our relations with them, and so I do appreciate your answer.”
Former Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources V. Alfred Gray in an October 3, 2016 letter to Gomez provided authorization for him to pursue the further development of the initiative.
Gray later admitted that he supported the initiative to discuss the ideas Gomez had put to him in order to see what would come out of the discussion.
In the letter, he called the proposal “progressive”.
The proposal called for the incorporation of 100 companies to be owned 50-50 by Bahamians and Chinese for the project, which would involve fishing in Bahamian waters and farming on Andros.
Each company would have been granted 100 acres of leased Andros farmland with an opportunity to access 100 additional acres.
In late November, then Prime Minister Perry Christie declared in Parliament that the initiative was a no go.
Christie said if such a plan came before Cabinet it would be “rejected outright”.
The Senate has not yet voted on Manchester’s nomination.
The Nassau post has been vacant since 2011.