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2005-05-23 18:58:53

Why Enter The CSME?

Forget the fear mongers and xenophobes. Read this intelligent, objective discussion to support joining the CSME.

What is an economic community? Loosely defined it is a group of countries that have come together in an effort to create a single common market progressively approximating the economic policies of member states, to promote throughout the Community a harmonious development of economic activities, a continuous and balanced expansion, an increase in stability, an accelerated raising of the standard of living and closer relations between the states belonging to it.

In short it is more than just the promotion of a free trade although trade is a necessary component.  There has been much talk of why The Bahamas should not join and much of that has centred on the free movement of persons.  In the classic sense and using the European Union as an example an economic community involves more than just the free movement of persons.  It also has a social chapter, involves a harmonisation of foreign policy, the right to free establishment a single currency and ultimately if ever it were possible the creation of a supernational.

This I am sure is mind boggling to most people because exactly what does this mean? First of all let me state what it does not mean.  In the context of The Bahamas it means that there will be no monetary union, no adherence to the Caribbean Court of Justice and no free movement of persons.  Pursuant to Article 237 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas the other member states have agreed to The Bahamas opting out of these provisions.

Be that as it may I view the Bahamas' participation in the CSME as the next logical step. We will all admit that the world has truly evolved into a global village and trading blocks are being established in many regions.  The CSME takes it a step further I will admit in its aims, some of which I am in full concurrence.

I view the Bahamas' position to opt out of the free movement of persons as wrong and illogical.  Therefore I shall briefly look at what this entails.  Article 45 states: “Member States commit themselves to the goal of free movement of their nationals within the Community'

This must be stated is the final goal, but as a first step Article 46 deals with the movement of skilled community nationals.  I am in agreement with this section and I would go further to state that we should seek to adhere to this provision by way of fractured implementation, in other words that we would not immediately allow the unfettered access to our job market, but provide for the same to be implemented over a sufficient period of time that would allow our work force to acquire the necessary skills to compete.

As the member states have already agreed to The Bahamas opting out of this provision all together this is not some fanciful wish on my part.  The negative side effect of a full adherence to Article 45 is that it will allow for the movement of nationals whether they have jobs or not, and the latter would of course put a strain on the social services of the country.

Why would I do this, well because I feel as though there are positive effects that outweigh the negative ones?  The Bahamas is a service-based economy, but we are seeing that many ventures that would come to our shores are establishing themselves in the other jurisdictions as well as we are losing some of our existing businesses.  It is most often said that the price to do business in The Bahamas is too high and it is often cited that there is a poor work ethic, a largely unskilled or under skilled labour force coupled with high wages.

By allowing the entrance of skilled labour The Bahamas would benefit from the brain drain in turn this would mean that many of the prospective entities would be able to meet their staffing requirements and the cost of employment would go down. The increase in the labour force should lead to lower wages and increased profits this in turn should attract new ventures and expand the economic base.

The freedom of establishment, which we have not opted out of, but questions have arisen based on the plight of the pharmacists will allow for additional expansion in the economic base as the bureaucratic red tape will be removed in respect of member state nationals.

The positives of this include the ability of Bahamian businessmen to set up in other jurisdictions, I'm sure Mr. Hazelwood of John Bull would welcome this opportunity as would Mr. Finlayson.  Bahamian capital would be allowed access to other markets and in turn capital would flow in thereby creating opportunities for Bahamians.  Increased competition classically is also supposed to have a positive effect on consumer prices by lowering them.

Here again in principle we as Bahamians should not have a major problem with this, as we as a country are constantly seeking foreign investment.  Is it therefore important from where that foreign investment hails?

So as I am not accused of inadequately stating the other side this provision also allows for the nationals of member states to engage in businesses once reserved for Bahamians and accordingly competition will exist where there was once none.

One immediate positive effect would be the availability of additional resources to the businessman especially the small businessman who although he presents on paper many times an idea with merit is yet none the less denied the financing for his project or where he is able to secure financing in most cases the amount granted usually has doomed the venture to fail even before it starts.

With the signing on to any treaty there are always aspects of sovereignty that come into question.  With any agreement there is always a price to pay.  Here in the CSME that price is that as a nation we a going to be subjected to rules that are going to be made jointly by the member states.  This however will not take place a vacuum without our participation.

Chapter two of the Revised Treaty, being articles 10 through 29 deals with the institutional arrangements of the CSME and particularly articles 27, 28 and 29 provide for the voting procedures.  Basically for the body to incorporate its plans a 75% vote of the quorum is required.  On matters deemed to be of critical importance to a member state passage can only be reached by a two-thirds vote of all the member states.

My view on the matter is that The Bahamas is in an advantageous position at the present time, because of the economic advantages that we enjoy, to for lack of a better term, dictate the manner in which our country will participate.  This is evidenced by the fact that the member states have already allowed us to opt out of areas that are critical to the operation of the community.

This point alone I realise raises the question of why we should join or why should they allow us to join if we are coming in only as a partial participant.  This is where my view is different than that of the government's.  I see the long-term advantage of a full membership.

I am of the view that based on the ever increasing trend to move towards trading blocks our failure to embrace our regional block will come back to haunt us.

Additionally, I feel as though when the rest of the community has been harmonised it is then that we as a nation will see the benefits of membership and only then that the majority of the people would want to embrace such a venture.  At that point however the community will have already experienced its growing pains without our participation and there would be no need to offer concessions much less reservations.

By Craig Butler, from The Nassau Guardian, Friday 20th May, 2005

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