WTO accession must consider vulnerabilities, economic challenges, notes Symonette
While the government believes accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) will be good for The Bahamas, it will be a cautiously though-out process given the wide-spread concerns of Bahamians, as the government recognizes the vulnerabilities and economic challenges of this archipelagic nation, Minister of Financial Services, Trade & Industry and Immigration Brent Symonette said at the 4th Meeting of the Working Party on the Accession of The Bahamas to the WTO on Friday in Geneva, Switzerland.
Symonette added that The Bahamas’ accession would be historic 18 years after beginning the process.
“…The government of the Bahamas recognizes that the question which remains foremost on the minds of most Bahamians is: Is WTO membership and the changes it might bring good for a small island developing country like ours?
“We believe the answer to be yes, but we must forecast this in the outcomes of our negotiations.
“The Bahamas is a developing country in every sense of the word; laden with the burden of providing for scattered populations over twenty nine inhabited islands, annually under threat from hurricanes, subject to the vagaries of global economic factors and highly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.”
Symonette expressed to the Working Party that any external shocks to this country’s economy could set it back, and reminded it that as a small island nation, those shocks include natural disasters like hurricanes, as well as economic and national security-related shocks from the United States, like the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
He added that sectors like agriculture have to be protected as the WTO opens the economy up to certain imports, as the sector “accounts for about two percent of The Bahamas’ gross domestic product (GDP) and comprises just under 3,000 registered farmers”.
“The Bahamas wants to demonstrate to the Bahamian people and its private sector, that the rules-based international trading system works to enhance its economic prospects, reduce its vulnerability to external shocks and create real and beneficial access to world markets not only for its goods and services, but also for the goods and services of others,” Symonette said.
He added that through tariff structures supported through WTO negotiations, sensitive agricultural products will be protected.
“In so doing the government, through its limited support programs, is seeking to maintain the livelihood and incomes of this small segment of the population,” he said.
“By so doing the government hopes to improve their productivity and competitiveness while ensuring the country’s food security needs are met.”
Symonette reiterated the government’s commitment to transparency during the negotiation phase, as well as to continued public consultation.
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