The Bahamas economy face more uncertainty on WTO and IMF

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By Paige McCartney

NASSAU, Bahamas — It is unlikely The Bahamas will meet its imposed deadline of June 2020 for accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the country’s chief negotiator for WTO accession Zhivargo Laing indicated, that he firmly believes, “The Bahamas will not join the WTO before the next general election;” while former Central Bank Governor and former Minister of State for Finance James Smith said, “The Bahamas is under no obligation to adhere to the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).”

“Now let me just be honest, I frankly believe that the noise in the marketplace – it may not even be a majority of noises – could affect the government’s sentiments toward the WTO, and frankly I do not believe The Bahamas will make the next meeting of the WTO. I think The Bahamas will be in the discussion for many more years to come,” Laing said on his Guardian Radio talk show “Z Live.” 

The Bahamas formally relaunched negotiations in regard to WTO accession last September at the third meeting of the working party on the accession to the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland. The working party met for a fourth time on April 5, at which time the country reported, “On the margins of the working party meeting it has concluded one bilateral market access agreement and with other members there has been tangible progress.”

Nevertheless, The Bahamas joining the WTO remains a controversial subject matter that has split public opinion. 

“I think if the government decides that you know what, maybe the citizenry needs more time to get on board, I don’t have a difficulty with that at all. That’s one of the reasons I say I suspect that we may be in the process for several more years if ever we do it,” Laing said.

Responding to questions about whether the resignation of former Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Brent Symonette – who led The Bahamas’ most recent delegation to the Working Party, will have an impact on the Bahamas moving forward with the WTO, Laing said, the question implies that Symonette was the driving factor behind the move.

“These are government policies. This is the government of The Bahamas, the Ingraham administration first, then the Christie administration, and then now the Minnis administration. So, the government has made that determination to move forward with this.”

The Bahamas’ Working Party was established on July 18, 2001 and led by Laing under the Ingraham administration.

As it pertains to the IMF: The Bahamas is under no obligation to adhere to the recommendations of the IMF and should rely more on its own capabilities as it navigates the issues impacting the economy, a leading economist has asserted.

Given that The Bahamas has managed to avoid entering into an IMF supported program, even at its most troubled position economically, and still achieve growth is indicative of the country’s strength, former Central Bank Governor and former Minister of State for Finance James Smith said.

“I think The Bahamas ought to take itself seriously, in spite of what we say about each other and our performances on the job, and I’m talking about successive governments. We could not have been all that bad in the sense that we are perhaps the one country in the region that has never been in an IMF program, meaning that the country screwed up so badly it was unable to get international or local loans, so the IMF would lend it money and in the end it would have to impose prescriptions that the IMF set. It usually calls for the cutting down of the size of the public service and reducing deficits. That works in some cases and may even work for us,” he said.

“But the idea is because we’ve been able to navigate ourselves out of trouble economically, we have no obligation to the IMF to take its advice, or to have its prescriptions for dealing with the economy. I think we should rely more on our own capabilities.”

The economy is expected to grow by 1.8 percent this year, according to the IMF, and recommends The Bahamas adopt further tax reforms.

Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian

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