NASSAU, The Bahamas — The Ministry of Economic Affairs hosted its inaugural meeting for the members of the newly appointed Trade Commission. The meeting was held at the Balmoral Club, Sanford Drive, on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. The newly appointed body includes a cross-section of professionals, who represent both New Providence and the Family Islands. Minister of Economic Affairs, Senator the Hon. Michael Halkitis, attended the meeting virtually. He congratulated the new members on their appointments and said that they would play a key role in the country’s trade sector. “I would like to first congratulate Mr. Galanis and the members of the Trade Commission on your appointments. This is a carefully selected team that represents the diversity that exists in a modern Bahamas. The members include women, young persons, small business as well as representatives from the Family Islands. Importantly, you represent different perspectives – some of you have experience in trade and while others may have peripheral knowledge,” he said. “We need your views and opinions in order to have a holistic view of the opportunities and challenges as well as the impacts of implementing international trade in ‘Our Blueprint for Change’. Mr. [Philip] Galanis would have developed experience as a former chair of the Trade Commission, and is a well-respected accounting professional.”
He said that it would be impossible to discuss every aspect of the trade agenda during the meeting but he highlighted three areas. They included: the National Trade Policy, which was prepared with support from the International Trade Centre (ITC) and will provide the framework to the Government’s overall economic diversification strategy to take advantage of opportunities in the blue, green and orange economies in international trade over the next three years.
He said that trade accounts for approximately 80 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). “The Bahamas is highly dependent on imports. These imports include many essential goods. To finance these imports, the country relies on income generated through the export of goods and services. The National Trade Policy is an analysis of the existing trade structure and builds a platform to include a greater range of players in goods and services exports. The policy is built on four pillars, which include: managing imports, expanding exports, diversifying exports and strengthening domestic competitiveness. “To this end, the trade policy is a strategic tool in moving the country forward economically and systematically. It recognizes that providing a supportive trading environment is not the sole responsibility of the trade ministry but requires legislative, policy and institutional reform to be undertaken in a number of areas in a collaborative manner. One area that stands out is the [cultural exports linkage], a vibrant intellectual property regime and a dynamic export promotion strategy.”
The second area he highlighted was that of existing trade agreements:
“Let me move quickly to our existing trade agreements. The Bahamas has trade agreements with the United States, European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom. Geographically, these agreements are limited and empirical evidence suggests digitization has opened opportunities particularly for services trade globally to markets in the Middle East and Africa, as an example,” he explained.
“On a technical level, the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) has a built-in five year review mechanism. The EPA is a development-oriented trade agreement which provides duty-free, quota-free access for CARIFORUM’s exports to the EU and provides access for trade in services. While The Bahamas is a major beneficiary of the Agreement when compared to the rest of the region in the area of services, a recent study completed by my Ministry on opportunities for the export of professional services to selected EU markets indicated that there are untapped market opportunities.” He said subsequent to the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, there have been efforts to establish the institutional mechanisms for the implementation of the CARIFORUM-UK. The Bahamas as a member of the CARIFORUM group has been participating in those meetings.
CARICOM, he said, is actively engaged in negotiating trade agreements with South America. “The United States is also moving in that direction. In fact, a major theme of the Summit of the Americas is the move by the United States for ‘nearshoring’, or moving a lot of the manufacturing and services supply closer to them. Although The Bahamas is not a part of any of CARICOM ’s other trade agreements, the Cabinet has agreed that we should observe the CARICOM-Colombia negotiations.”
The third area he discussed was the World Trade Organization (WTO).
“Successive Governments have undertaken studies to understand the legislative and policy reforms for joining the WTO. The sticking point is negotiating access to the services sectors, an area where there has been extensive consultations with the private sector. The process is therefore only one third complete. The Government of The Bahamas currently maintains the position that negotiations will not resume unless the private sector is driving the process,” said the Senator.
He said the WTO ‘s 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) took place from 12 to 17 June 2022 at WTO headquarters in Geneva and that Ministers from all over the world attended to review the functioning of the multilateral trading system, to make general statements and to take action on the future work of the WTO. “The Conference was formally observed by the Ambassador Patricia Hermanns in Geneva,” he said. “The conference concluded successfully on 17 June, with agreement on a package of key trade initiatives. Several issues were raised that may have a domestic impact on our country despite our non-member status, such as the moratorium on E-Commerce and Fisheries Subsidies.”
Finally, he discussed the role that the Trade Commission would play.
“The responsibilities of the Trade Commission team are extensive and there is no doubt that there is a lot of work to be done. The importance of the role of public awareness cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to discussing the opportunities and benefits of trade liberalization.”
He noted that the primary elements of the mandate of the Trade Commission included:
Increasing public awareness about what is taking place in the international trade environment, especially when public confidence is lacking due to limited understanding of the link between trade and economic development. He said The Commission would be essential in bridging the gap between the public and the government regarding the Government’s Trade Agendas.
The Trade Commission is also tasked with the responsibility of identifying which industries and sectors are most vulnerable to trade liberalisation, as well as identifying the extent to which they are vulnerable. The Commission will focus on Market Access and anti-dumping and will have to provide the government with recommendations on which posture to assume during trade with respect to increasing market access, and also provide recommendations to counteract ‘dumping.
The Commission will serve to integrate trade agreements into everyday business actions, and also inform the government’s trade legislative agenda.
“In order to increase public confidence, the Commission will be challenged to identify the extent to which the public is faced with market access limitations while trading internationally; as well as share its recommendations to the government during trade negotiations. The work of the Commission is wide ranging and you have a heavy responsibility to engage widely and frankly on trade issues, and to be innovative in your approaches.”