Kevin Seymour, business consultant and chartered accountant, addressing the Abaco Business Outlook told attendees to be prepared as it is “a matter of when and not if” The Bahamas joins the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Mr. Seymour said that it is necessary that The Bahamas finalize its ascension to the WTO by the end of 2019 noting that The Bahamas is the only country in the Western Hemisphere not a member of the WTO.
He noted the long, hot and cold history of The Bahamas’ application to join the WTO, going back to the first submission in 2001, with several dormant times over the years, the government would meet with WTO in 2011 and then in 2012.
The WTO would come to The Bahamas in 2015 again to gauge interest and the government finally agreeing in late 2017 to join the Organization.
He emphasized that the Bahamas has no bi-lateral agreement with the USA with our trade being based on the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) which can be changed at any time at the US Government’s discretion.
He urged the audience to understand that it is not if, but when The Bahamas joins the WTO and that persons need to position themselves to take advantage of opportunities rather than be afraid of what could possibly happen with trade liberalization.
Mr. Seymour said that persons need not fear a Walmart opening in The Bahamas due to economies of scale, but added that enterprising Bahamians could seek beneficial partnerships with bigger companies to benefit locally and via trade.
He also noted that introduction of VAT (Value Added Tax) was necessary to pave the way for the removal of Customs Duties as the WTO sees duties as a barrier to trade.
He indicated that this would, when the government eventually reduces/eliminates Customs Duties, create a need for the government to rebalance as duties makes up a significant amount of the country’s revenues. Income Tax, he alluded, would likely be inevitable in the future.
In the end he said The Bahamas is in a bad position to bargain as failure to join the WTO could amount to the country being listed as a Pariah State. He noted how the Bahamas’ Tax Haven label led to a blacklisting and the subsequent gutting of the country’s Financial Sector.
He said not to think of the liberalization as a way that will kill Bahamian businesses, but as an opportunity to make our economy more diverse.
He said the country needs to understand that there will be people coming to work in The Bahamas, and suggested that there be a selective immigration policy to ensure we engage in some “reverse brain-drain” attracting experts and professionals in sectors of need as we seek to diversify.