Say a loud ‘no’ to the WTO

Dear Editor,

I regard Zhivago Laing both as a friend and as a very intelligent and principled Bahamian. But on the supposed desirability of The Bahamas (a country that imports everything and exports next to nothing) joining the WTO, he is simply very wrong.

From start to finish, this proposition makes no sense for The Bahamas. And as we have seen from Laing’s comments last week, it could involve major sacrifices.

We have an economy that is completely open to imports (the avowed purpose of the WTO) and which derives almost all of its foreign exchange not from exports of goods or products (the removal of barriers to which is the primary incentive of the WTO), but from the sale of services.

While in recent years it has become fashionable to characterize our primary services – tourism and banking — as “intangible exports”, this term is a misnomer insofar as it implies that these services are affected by traditional trade rules. They are not.

Most of the services we sell in The Bahamas are sold locally.

For example, as a land lawyer, I am approached by international individuals seeking to purchase property in The Bahamas and needing the services of an attorney, realtor, insurance company, etc.

The resultant transaction brings in foreign exchange and involves no requirement on my part (or the Bahamian realtor’s, or the Bahamian insurer’s) to obtain rights of establishment, entry or settlement in the jurisdiction of the purchaser.

Neither can a foreign jurisdiction tax the Bahamian real estate or the services that are purchased, thus creating a traditional barrier to the “export” because the entire transaction takes place in The Bahamas.

The same applies to those coming here for offshore banking or trust services. And between them, these two sectors (real estate and banking) account for a huge proportion of the activity that sustains our middle class.

Tourism, which accounts for even more of our service-driven economic output, is also local.

U.S. tourists coming to Atlantis or going to swim with pigs in Exuma, do not consult with their local trade officials before booking a holiday. In fact, once they leave home, it is none of the business of the U.S. (or British, or Canadian etc.) government where they are going, what they are doing or how much it costs.

While there are marginal activities (like crawfish exports) and notional prospects that may conceivably benefit from access to new markets, neither justifies the loss of our right to maintain Bahamians-only restrictions to selected areas of our domestic economy, as the WTO will clearly demand.

As with our proudly yet dismally “compliant” reaction to various international agencies over our offshore banking industry (also sold to us in complex terms by ostensibly qualified, highly educated officials), the common sense instincts of ordinary Bahamians were very right and the foolhardiness of joining the international bandwagon is now clear for all to see. The industry will now be chipped away until it is gone, notwithstanding the protestations of our gullible ministers.

And to join the WTO would be to mount an even more needless slippery pole.

Bahamians, don’t be fooled by the big words and complex arguments. Just ask yourselves how a country that exports nothing and imports everything could possibly benefit from membership of an exporter’s club that threatens to bring “competition” to the protections that created your middle class.

Just apply Occam’s razor. If it sounds downright stupid, that is because in all likelihood it is.

— Andrew Allen

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