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2003-09-03 14:30:22

Bahamas Slammed On CSME

The Bahamas is the only country in CARICOM that has yet to decide whether it will join.

The Bahamas is bearing the critical label of defrauding its Caribbean neighbours in order to protect its own interests when it comes to a proposal for a regional free trade zone.

But Bahamian officials, who have long been apprehensive specifically about the free movement of labour provision of the recommended Caribbean Single Market Economy [CSME], are opposed to that classification.

They are at odds with the conclusions of researchers at the Washington D.C-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs who say “formidable political obstacles bedevil CARICOM's bold new plan.'

As part of the CSME, the focus has been on allowing the free movement of labour across national boundaries. However, unrestricted transit is a highly contentious issue for The Bahamas, which fears that its economy will be inundated by foreign labourers, causing its employment to swell.

“Although the Bahamas situation is indeed unique with a far lower unemployment rate and a higher per capita GDP than the CARICOM average,' noted researchers, “in stalling the labour agreement, The Bahamas has defrauded its neighbours in order to protect its own interests.'

The report noted that if the CSME has any hope of realization, CARICOM must discourage this behaviour by instilling a desire for cooperation among individual nations.

The plan would also allow the free movement of capital, common external tariffs and a single monetary standard.

Prime Minister Perry Christie and other CARICOM Heads of Government are being pressed to commit to timetables for the implementation of regional changes that would usher in the CSME and the Caribbean Regional Court of Justice [CCJ].

But Mr. Christie has constantly referred to a report which found that The Bahamas has accepted more nationals from the Caribbean region than any other CARICOM country.  

There is another angle to the council's report which pointed out that with the United States pushing for the implementation of its Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2005, a deadline that seems unattainable, time is running out for CARICOM.

“Caribbean nations would be wise to present a united front to avoid being steamrolled by the world's most powerful economy,' the report said.

“To do this, members must be willing to sign on to multilateral agreements instead of continuing to pursue narrow self interests at the expense of CARICOM's legitimacy and the region's long-term welfare.'

On a visit here last year, Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur urged The Bahamas to endorse the CSME. The Bahamas is the only country in CARICOM that has yet to decide whether it will join.

At a luncheon organised by The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Arthur, who has lead responsibility for the creation of the CSME, told a large delegation of parliamentarians, business personnel, labour and church leaders, that it will be in the best interest for The Bahamas to become a part of the regional body and still maintain its sovereignty.

"The Caribbean Market and Single Economy will for the first time facilitate free trade in our region, the free trade of services and the unimpeded flow of capital," he said

"The Bahamas enjoys special advantages in both of these spheres relative to other Caribbean countries and could benefit significantly by becoming the major service provider and the major financial centre for all Caribbean economies," Prime Minister Arthur said.

He noted that joining the CSME will offer The Bahamas significant advantages of a fiscal nature in its participation in both the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the World Trade Organisation.

The Bahama Journal

 
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