The government was warned yesterday to “slow your roll” regarding its push to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Deputy Leader Chester Cooper, who is also the shadow minister of finance, said it is “reckless” for the government to proceed with WTO accession when so many Bahamians are uncomfortable with it.
“Let me give the government some more free advice about the WTO. Slow your roll,” Cooper said while contributing to debate on a resolution to adopt the Fiscal Strategy Report (FSR) in the House of Assembly Wednesday.
“The majority of Bahamians are extremely reticent about the WTO because they don’t have enough information to make an informed determination. They are fearful because they don’t see what’s in it for us.”
Last month, government’s chief negotiator on the WTO Zhivargo Laing revealed The Bahamas’ goods and services offer to the WTO. Sector-wide consultation was expected to ensue, after which the proposal would be submitted to the global trade group.
“We can remain at observer status for a while longer. Another election cycle won’t hurt,” Cooper said, cautioning government to take more time.
“Yeah, slow your roll, educate the public, negotiate a deal that makes sense for us, then seek a clear mandate from the Bahamian people on this issue.
“That or tell us specifically who is to benefit in the short term in a real-world sense. What will the carve outs be to protect Bahamian business? If it is to modernize the government as you say, we don’t need to join the WTO to do that do we? If it is to have greater access to world markets, I don’t see what’s stopping that now.”
Cooper also questioned how the government intends to keep on track with its fiscal projections outlined in the FSR, if it accedes to the WTO.
The government stands to lose about $40 million in revenue from the reduction in customs duties that would result from full accession.
“The (FSR) report says on page 18 that customs duty collection is supposed to increase by more than $20 million per year over the next three years. But I thought we were joining the WTO.
“Did the WTO offer not say we would be foregoing about $45 million a year in customs revenue?
“Where is this increase going to come from?” Cooper asked on the floor.