Oxford Economics examining policy trade-offs required for WTO accession
Global forecasting and quantitative analysis firm Oxford Economics is currently compiling multiple scenarios and outcomes of The Bahamas as a World Trade Organization (WTO) member in an effort to pinpoint which policy priorities are needed as the country moves further along with accession negotiations.
Darron Pickstock, who heads the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation’s (BCCEC) WTO division, said initial findings of the report have so far revealed admittance by policymakers of the need to reform business trade and industry laws independently of WTO accession.
“The Oxford Economics discussions with the government agencies of The Bahamas revealed that policymakers are definitely aware of the need to reform laws and policy, independent of the WTO accession readiness,” he said at a recent power breakfast hosted by the BCCEC.
“WTO commitments are often a useful tool for locking in business-friendly reforms while the accession process can form part of a series of policies that improve the economic policy framework. But the accession process can be arduous, and a successful outcome is more likely when it is accepted by the private sector. [That] is one of the reasons why the chamber has engaged and continues to engage the private sector to determine its views on the WTO accession process.”
In January, Zhivargo Laing, The Bahamas’ chief negotiator for WTO accession, revealed the country’s most recent offer, which it intends to submit to the global organization in the coming months.
Having not taken a firm position on accession, the BCCEC said in January that it would await the results of the Oxford Economics study before supporting or rejecting government’s push to join the WTO.
Pickstock said the potential scenarios for WTO accession currently being analyzed by Oxford Economics will help inform the final recommendations regarding the design of negotiation strategies and policy priorities from The Bahamas.
“Having reviewed the current negotiating position in The Bahamas and the request from the WTO members, the WTO Oxford Economics team is examining the policy trade-offs that may be required for accession,” he said.
“This will also be informed by the experience of similar economies seeking membership of the WTO while also considering the unique characteristics of the Bahamian economy and its policy settings.
“What the BCCEC will do is, once this report is completed, we will take into consideration all of its recommendations in determining whether it is beneficial for The Bahamas to become a member of the WTO.”
The report is slated to be completed in the first week of April.
Off the bat, Pickstock said initial interviews with industry stakeholders revealed some misconceptions about WTO accession and what it means.
“[It] gave the consultants an opportunity to clarify these issues and dispel any misinformation,” Pickstock said.
“There were some concerns expressed during those stakeholder interviews. Stakeholders expressed [concern with] the high cost of doing business in The Bahamas. [They] also expressed their concern about the local economy, and they stressed concern that it struggles to benefit from the WTO accession in the absence of an environment that allows them to compete effectively with foreign suppliers.
He added that “inefficient and costly bureaucracy, as well as high bank charges and insurance rates, legal fees, labor costs, electricity charges and access to credit were also seen as an issue, especially for smaller companies”.
“I’m sure all of you have expressed these concerns many times over,” he said. “By creating a more favorable business climate, policy reforms can provide the incentives required for companies, from micro-enterprises to multi-national corporations to invest and to create jobs.”
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