The Bahamas can be very surgical in its negotiations with the World Trade Organization (WTO), in order to protect those sectors it wants to keep closely held for the sake of local businesses, Senior Advisor to the Office of the Director General at the WTO Wayne McCook said on Friday.
McCook is the former chair of the WTO Working Party on the Accession of The Bahamas. During his appearance as a guest on Guardian Radio’s “Z Live” talk show on Friday, he explained that The Bahamas, like other countries, is in a position to protect its most vulnerable industries through tariff adjustments, despite the commonly held belief that the WTO dictates where tariffs must be set.
McCook said tariff rates can go as high as negotiated in order to protect sectors like agriculture, which has been a bone of contention locally since WTO negotiations began again in earnest.
He added that The Bahamas, as it continues to negotiate, has to decide where it wants to take vulnerable sectors in the future, and then draft policies to steer those sectors through and past WTO accession.
He said it is important for The Bahamas to persuade WTO members why certain sectors need to be protected locally and therefore make the case for higher tariff rates that will protect against imports.
Ambassador of Barbados and Permanent Representative to the UN and other agencies in Geneva Chad Blackman was also a guest on the show; he and McCook sought to dispel the idea that The Bahamas will have to simply open its borders to foreigners and lower its tariff rates to zero.
Blackman said The Bahamas remains a sovereign state under the WTO and can carry out its negotiations and rate-setting as it sees fit.
“You still are in charge of your borders,” he said.
“You have the ability to open up on a gradual basis.”
He added that an important aspect of WTO accession is the accessibility Bahamians will have to other markets that will allow them to have a level of predictability when negotiating to move products and services into other WTO jurisdictions.
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