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Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Deputy Leader Arinthia Komolafe yesterday said the Bahamas should not move forward with accession  plans  to the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

Mrs. Komolafe says  that her party “wholeheartedly supports the principles of a free market economy and initiatives that will provide a fair global trading system”. 

She also noted that  “E-commerce, technology and the phenomenon of globalization have removed national barriers to cross-border trade regardless of membership of trading blocs”.

However  she said  successive administrations have advanced the policy of full accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO),  despite the serious concerns raised by the public and private sector investors. 

In a  press release  she accused the government of failing to present a strong case to justify WTO accession and clearly articulate the expected benefits.

She said, “in the aftermath of implementing massive tax increases and policies that have exacerbated the hardship on the Bahamian people, the government continues to have misplaced priorities.”

She added, “their disconnection from the plight of the masses has prevented them from seeing that WTO accession is not a priority for struggling Bahamians. The enormous resources expended on this initiative further raises questions,  seeing that the Free National Movement (FNM) did not campaign on joining the WTO on the 2017 campaign trail.”

Mrs. Komolafe stated that the country’s economy  urgently needs structural reforms to improve productivity, efficiency, competitiveness and the overall ease of doing business. 

She added, “further the cost of entering and remaining in business remains high within our nation. Accession to the WTO is not required to implement these long overdue reforms and should not be an impetus for same.” 

On the other hand, she said that concurrently, the WTO is also in need of sweeping reforms to ensure fairness in international trade for developing nations, the use of state-owned enterprises and an effective policing and dispute resolution regime. 

She said, “this issue is further complicated by the threat of the United States – our number one trading partner – to leave the WTO. The recent release of The Bahamas’ offer to the WTO is welcomed insofar as it is an indication of the beginning of transparency in the government’s dealings.” 

Mrs. Komolafe encouraged the government to apply this practice to all aspects of governance  rather than select initiatives.

She noted that the government has indicated in its most recent release that lost revenue following accession will only amount to $40 million. 

Her response to this was that a proper analysis and realistic projection on revenue loss is meaningless, until a final WTO offer has been agreed upon. 

She added, “any projection of  revenue loss by the government is premature and cannot be relied upon at this time. It also remains unknown how the government will replace lost revenue within a regressive tax system.”

The party is now calling on the government to release data supporting its conclusion. 

Mrs. Komolafe said, “additionally, the government should also reveal the vulnerability study completed by the government so that the same can add to a productive discourse on the effects of WTO accession for The Bahamas.”

She added, “successive administrations have squandered opportunities over the years to empower Bahamian entities in preparation for the competitive pressures that accession to the WTO will present. On the contrary, the tax burden on Bahamian residents and businesses have been increased by governments subscribing to a “tax, spend and borrow” philosophy. We submit that accession to the WTO is not a panacea to the myriad challenges confronting us as a nation and should not be touted as such.”

The DNA Deputy Leader suggested that the government reprioritize and focus its attention on addressing the systemic restrictions and structural deficiencies within our economy.

“We are concerned that vulnerable sectors in The Bahamas will be further challenged and unable to compete with nations equipped for mass production/exportation with accession to the WTO. This is consistent with the widely held view that the structure of the WTO provides a greater advantage to developed countries and the obvious detriment of small developing nations.”, she said. 

The DNA proposed that as an alternative, The Bahamas explore” bilateral, plurilateral and sector-specific trade agreements with its main trade partners with the sole criterion being the best interest of the Bahamian people”.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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