Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Immigration, the Hon. Brent Symonette officially opened meetings with stakeholders for the first round of World Trade Organization (WTO) consultations. During a press conference held at the Office of the Prime Minister on Monday, 16th April, Minister Symonette said that ascension to the WTO would be beneficial to the country. “Membership in the WTO would allow progressive Bahamians, individuals, and corporation, to increasingly pursue trade in the world and benefit from the protection and safeguard of rules applicable to members of the WTO,” said Mr. Symonette. He said that membership would ‘strengthen’ the country’s competitiveness for international capital, strengthen confidence in the country as a jurisdiction for pursuing innovation and decrease trade barriers. “These and other reasons, still remain a strong rationale for pursuing membership in the WTO,” he said.
Minister Symonette also said that contrary to popular belief, membership to the WTO would not include free movement of labor, or ‘unfettered’ access of companies such as Wal-Mart, or inability of the Bahamas to determine its economic and monetary policy. He said, however, there were other challenges for the country that include: the need to develop a new fiscal regime as the country becomes less dependent on customs duty for raising revenues; cost of compliance in order to improve legislation, regulations, practices and procedures to conform to international standards; and the need for some sectors of the economy to make adjustment to a more liberal investment environment. “At this point in the accession process, we must negotiate with other members of the WTO on the rules and terms on which to become a member of the WTO,” he said. “Each sector of the Bahamian economy must be negotiated with a view to ensuring that we obtain accession terms that are beneficial to our growth and development.”