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 Bahamas Commentary

2006-01-17 15:38:45

Fear, Dislike Of Foreigners

I don't feel as though burying our heads in the sand in the face of the onslaught is the answer.

As a service-based economy, we, as Bahamians, need to understand a little more about the WTO and what its aims and objectives are. There are two polarised schools of thought: the first, which is fast losing its steam, held by developing nations is that these trade organisations are only a means of institutionalised slavery to keep them down; and the second, by the major players is that it is only through open trade that the poor countries can fully and properly develop.

There is some merit to the fear expressed by the developing world. The framework as is laid out allows for sanctions to be taken against members that don't adhere to the rules; it cedes some of a nation's sovereignty, as areas previously mandated by the legislative bodies of the individual states now will be made at Ministerial Conferences; and regardless of attempts and overtures in respect of equality, the golden rule will always apply.

Despite this and the inherent setbacks, much of the developing world has embraced the WTO. They have however sought to do so by maximising their bargaining power through regional collective groupings. The CSME would be that group for The Bahamas.

The World Bank says the Doha Round could lift millions of people out of poverty and trigger growth by injecting billions of dollars into the world economy, thus supporting the contention of the major players.

Many African nations facing major problems with trade liberalisation have nonetheless embraced the Doha Work Programme because of the overall benefits to be derived. In October 2005, in a Statement by Abdoulie Janneh, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, delivered by Mbaye Diouf, Director of ECA's East African sub-regional office, the following was noted: "Please permit me, on behalf of the U.N. Under Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Mr. Abdoulie Janneh, to thank the Government of the Republic of Tanzania and our sister regional organisation, the African Union (AU), for inviting the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) to participate in this important meeting to prepare for the Hong Kong WTO Ministerial Conference. It is indeed a privilege and an honour for us to be able to interact with you and to share with you our perspectives on the challenges that face our continent.

"This meeting is taking place at an important juncture in the current round of trade negotiations, called the Doha Work Programme, in a number of aspects. Firstly, it offers unique opportunities to assess and evaluate the state of play in the negotiations, not only against the Cairo Declaration and the Roadmap, but also more importantly, against the mandate agreed in Doha when this round was being launched.

"Secondly, it provides an opportunity for African countries to further strategies for the Hong Kong WTO Ministerial Conference and agree on a minimum package that Hong Kong needs to deliver not only for this round to remain alive and be successfully concluded by the end of 2006, but more importantly, in order to deliver on the development dimensions.

"Finally, this meeting also provides an avenue for African countries to reiterate what they consider to be their main concerns in these trade negotiations, and the importance of this round in achieving a multilateral trading system and architecture which will assist in the effective integration of African economies in the world economy and global trading system."

This statement was before the Hong Kong round, which did not yield the desired results. Although the African nations are a powerful bloc and have economies that are primarily based on agriculture and mineral wealth, the rich nations were still able to extract in the end many concessions from them that will have ill effects.

Martin Khor, 'WTO Ministerial Outcome Imbalanced Against Developing Countries, Third World Network, Dec. 22, 2005,' noted: "As a bonus, the developed countries also extracted important concessions from developing countries on the last day and in the last hours of Hong Kong on NAMA [Non-Agricultural Market Access]." The fears that many developing countries and NGOs have regarding NAMA is that poorer countries will be opened up to foreign take-over of their industries, or that their fledgling industries would not be on the same level playing-field to compete with established industries and companies (typically from rich countries). They feel they have a right to help nurture their industries just as the rich countries have long done, to help them develop.

The African Trade Network, an organisation which co-ordinates the activities of African NGOs also feared the biggest loss was in services and NAMA [African countries'] right to choose which service sectors to open and to what extent, according to their own national needs, has been undermined. Increased foreign ownership in investment in service sectors is putting enormous pressures on African countries to open up sensitive service sectors to powerful corporations from the North.

In The Bahamas we are going to face many challenges with globalised trade, and membership in the WTO will affect us all. However our lack of participation is going to cripple our economy.

We need to try and resolve the inherent problems the best way that we can to ensure our survival. I don't feel as though burying our heads in the sand in the face of the onslaught is the answer. That is precisely what we are doing however.

From: The Nassau Guardian

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