Categorized | Business, National News

WTO Exec. Pitches Benefits Of Bahamas Accession

Estimates suggest that the global economy stands to benefit as much as a trillion dollars from its agreement to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) with lower estimates in the range of $400 billion, still quite a significant figure.

WTO Deputy Director General David Shark revealed as much while making a strong case on the benefits The Bahamas stands to gain from agreeing to such a multi-lateral commitment.

“Anyway you look at it, it’s still a lot and also includes some new very important flexibilities for developing countries,” he said on Wednesday during a panel discussion on the topic: How Will Accession to the World Trade Organisation affect The Bahamas.

Mr. Shark said the WTO has found that countries that have negotiated their way in and accepted the full obligations have developed stronger, more resilient economies, better investments and that they did much better withstanding the effects of the financial crisis.

“…Membership in the WTO assist governments to do things in many cases that they want/need to do anyway…As I understand, The Bahamas is hard at work developing up to date rules for food safety, standards, etc…These are necessary to become a member of the WTO, but these are things the country wants anyway,” he said.

“Clearly, domestic tourism also stands to benefit from the establishment of a transparent and predictable trade environment. Export oriented operators are likely to benefit directly…Also membership to the WTO makes The Bahamas or any member, a much more attractive place for investors.”

According to Mr. Shark, companies shopping around to invest will see that a country has become a member of the WTO, giving them certain guarantees about the economic environment in which they will be operating.

“If you’re looking to choose where you want to invest, this can be a very important factor. It is also important when companies are looking for links in supply chains…,” he further explained.

“WTO membership also provides a buffer; protection from protectionism. If as a member someone violates your rights, treats your companies poorly in ways not consistent with their obligations, you can take them to dispute settlement at WTO, which has a very effective system of dispute settlements.”

Giving a further pitch for the added need for The Bahamas to think about becoming a WTO member, the deputy director general pointed to the recent successful conclusion of an agreement on trade facilitation, which calls for the modernisation of customs administration and the elimination or at least reduction of unnecessary red tape at borders.

“This is particularly important to smaller players who don’t have the resources to jump these unnecessary hurdles,” he acknowledged.

However, Mr. Shark made it clear that he is not in The Bahamas to tell officials what to do, but rather to simply answer questions and from his own perspective, help everyone understand what he sees are the benefits of joining the WTO.

Mr. Shark’s visit is particularly important.

Despite some 12 years in the making, The Bahamas’ accession to the WTO has spurred quite a lot of dialogue that has fueled both misconception and misunderstanding, according to Financial Services Minister Ryan Pinder, who agreed that overall, it is an exercise from which The Bahamas can reap great economic returns.

“We are a two-tiered economy – primarily tourism and financial services,” Minister Pinder said. “We are an economy greatly influenced by external world events beyond our control and we are an economy that needs to grow and diversify and provide additional opportunities for Bahamians.

“We believe given our location and our trade infrastructure that might exist already and we’re a services jurisdiction…certainly in this vein, I’ve asked the WTO and other organisations to figure out how we can take our expertise and services to new markets and service markets to broaden the scope of our economic participation. There are a lot of opportunities with respect to global trade and other trade agreements.”

The Bahamas started its accession process to the WTO as far back as May 10, 2001.

Since then, it has made it to the eighth step of this nine-step process.

“We’re progressing, but at the back end, not the front end,” Minister Pinder said.

As explained by Mr. Shark, to become a member of the WTO, a country must demonstrate to other members that it is ready and capable of implementing the rules.

“You also then negotiate bi-lateral market access agreements that establishes your schedule of concessions, the limits you accept on your tariffs and the commitments you take in the area of services,” he said.

There are 160 WTO members.

Prior to participating in Wednesday’s panel discussion, Dr. Shark spent the day in meetings with the government.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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