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2005-05-13 09:15:33

Mitchell Blasts Opponents Of CSME

Not mincing his words, the foreign affairs minister said the campaign is suspect and its motives are built on fear, prejudice and a reckless disregard for the economic future of the country.

A strident minority creating a smokescreen of deceit is behind the opposition to the Caricom Single Market and Economy [CSME], the Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell told businesspersons in Freeport, Grand Bahama Wednesday.

His declaration was another angle to what has become a public debate over the proposed regional agreement that the Government of The Bahamas is considering endorsing.

"What is happening now is not a general outcry from the Bahamian people, but a strident minority campaign by those who can commandeer the airways and the press and are able to create a din, a smokescreen of deceit that will obfuscate what is a clear issue," he said at the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce luncheon yesterday.

Not mincing his words, the foreign affairs minister said the campaign is suspect and its motives are built on fear, prejudice and a reckless disregard for the economic future of the country.

In recent times, businessman Franklyn Wilson has supported calls for a referendum on The Bahamas joining the CSME, the Chairman of the Financial Services Consultative Forum Brian Moree said the government should not join, the association that represents pharmacists and well known economist Dr. Gilbert Morris have expressed reservations.

Mr. Mitchell has been on a public education jaunt to increase the dialogue about the CSME, but has been advocating that the country sign on to the agreement.

Cabinet has not yet conveyed its decision.

"What we are engaged in is a straightforward exercise of maintaining The Bahamas position in Caricom and reserving our position on the principle economic aspects of the Treaty [of Chaguaramas]," said Mr. Mitchell. "The bargain; we obtain the political benefits, the best of the economic benefits, and a prime strategic trading position for the future. The downside is minimal or none at all."

It was the same sentiment that the Bahamas High Commissioner to Caricom A. Leonard Archer expressed in a Bahama Journal interview this week. He claimed that misinformation was being spread about the trade agreement.

Mr. Moree has questioned the purpose of The Bahamas joining the CSME if the government is inclined to opt out of four major provisions of the treaty inclusive of those that relate to the free movement of people, the single monetary union, the common external tariff and the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Narrowing the focus of the potential impact of joining the trade bloc on the Freeport community, Mr. Mitchell said there would be no implications for that city as a free trade zone and the ability to continue doing business would be preserved.

Also, responding to the concerns that were raised by pharmacists, he said: "We are also looking at how to modify our position on the rights of establishment for community nationals – this has to do with the ability of community nationals to set up businesses in [sectors] previously reserved exclusively for nationals of a particular country."

The provision that relates to the free movement of people has been one of the sore points related to the CSME, with many Bahamians including the prime minister reluctant to endorse it.

He has said repeatedly that The Bahamas has accepted more CARICOM nationals than any other country in the region.

By: Tameka Lundy, The Bahama Journal

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