Recognizing hysteria and hyperbole
There is an almost constant chatter in The Bahamas regarding WTO. It is something that should generate conversation and debate, but it appears that we may have moved from intelligent discussion to hysteria. While I am not well-versed in all aspects of WTO it is not difficult to recognize hysteria and hyperbole.
As a country we should not enter into any agreements that do not produce a net benefit, but like any agreement we must weigh the pros and cons in a logical fashion, and then come to a reasonable conclusion.
Many of the statements making the rounds on talk shows and in newspaper columns are so outrageous that it is hard to imagine intelligent people would make these statements without corroborating facts. I have heard a number of things that border on ridiculous assertions. Foreigners will be allowed to set up businesses without a business license and without immigration approval, foreigners will be allowed to apply for Bahamian jobs from anywhere in the world without restrictions.
Many have not stopped to think that if this is what happens with WTO then Bahamians will be able to set up businesses in the United States (US) and Europe without a business license and would be able to immigrate without approval. If this were the case, Jamaicans and Trinidadians would have already relocated en masse to the US and would have opened numerous businesses. Clearly this is not factual so we should move beyond this type of speculation and find out the truth.
I have listened to and consulted with proponents on both sides and am still processing the information. As of this writing some of the key points that have come to my attention include:
• International markets become more accessible by joining WTO, meaning that Bahamian companies that export (e.g. lobster, fish etc.) would have most favored status as opposed to facing high tariffs that could severely reduce access and profitability.
• Failure to join could mean exclusion and non-preferable terms with key trading partners. Some items that currently enjoy low or no tariffs would face higher tariffs.
• As most countries in the world have joined, failure to join could leave us on the outside looking in.
• Reduced customs duties on imports.
• According to some experts The Bahamas is being forced to meet WTO conditions already without experiencing the benefits, so accession would mean more benefits to The Bahamas.
• Our ability to compete with larger producing nations could be a challenge because we do not have the skill, manpower or resources.
• Additional forms of taxation to make up for reduced customs duties would mean new forms of taxation.
• Our exports are fairly small compared to our competitors so our trade imbalance could widen.
• Larger countries would have the upper hand in disputes as they are much better equipped to deal with disputes with smaller countries.
• Reduced protections for domestic industries are a possibility which could mean Bahamian light manufacturing industries will be unable to compete with foreign entities.
• Increased competition from foreign entities that could challenge local businesses and service providers.
• An increased trade imbalance.
The Bahamas through its negotiating team must carefully weigh the options, and we should not, and I hope would not, enter into anything that diminishes our status and results in a negative net effect. As we all grapple with the new world order realities, it is incumbent upon citizens to carefully inform themselves that when we speak, we speak from a solid logical position rather than an emotional one.
We must lay the facts on the table, do comparisons with countries that are similar to ours that have joined the WTO and look at the results to help guide our decision making. In the words of Jesus in Luke 14:28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’”
We must count the cost and benefits and make the best decision for The Bahamas.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.