Madam President, Officers and Members of the Rotary Club of Freeport, I thank you for this invitation to address you on this very important topic today.
I wish however before I begin to congratulate Madam President for her stellar achievement as the first female President of a Rotary Club in the Bahamas, and congratulate this Club as it celebrates it’s 40th anniversary.
The globalisation process which promotes unrestricted movement of goods, capital and services across national borders poses many challenges to small nation states such as the Bahamas.
These challenges include amongst others the loss of traditional tax-revenue bases, the need to identify and harness new tax-revenue bases, the social and economic impact of unrestricted foreign labour and capital, and sovereignty issues.
Today, I will address aspects of the social and economic impact of globalisation on the Bahamas and propose strategies for coping.
The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is an integral part of this globalisation process and is designed to create a western hemisphere trading block incorporating some 34 democratic nations stretching from Canada to Argentina by 2005.
So with FTAA we are dealing with a powerful global entity with the resources to influence and change the social, economic and political landscape of the region and the world.
The crucial questions for the Bahamas are :
1. Do we as a Nation get involved or remain isolated?
This question has been answered already by the Government which is a signatory to the Summit of the Americas held in Miami, Dec.1994 which committed the Bahamas to be involved in the formulative stages of FTAA.
2. What are the National Interests of the Bahamas and how are they to be protected and preserved under the FTAA?
This question has not been answered and must be the substance of debate amongst negotiators and those representing our interests.
However the definition of National interests must incorporate the input of politicians, bureaucrats and civil society. Hence wide consultations and education of all sectors of society are necessary. This is not a process that should be left to politicians alone to decide.
I do not feel that the Bahamian population has been adequately educated on the globalisation process and it’s potential impact on the social and economic spheres.
The basic principles and terms of engagement for the Bahamas in this new global order I have termed the “ABCs of Survival in the New Millennium”:
A: The preservation of and respect for our Sovereignty and National Identity.
B: The preservation of the social, political and economic stability of our Bahamaland.
C: The protection of our land, seas and environment for the benefit of all Bahamians, born and unborn.
D: Bahamians must determine their destiny, and never be treated as second class citizens in their country.
E: Bahamians must strive for excellence, and become first class citizens in the global village through discipline, industry, and innovation.
F: Integration in the global economy must be meaningful and beneficial to the Bahamas.
G: Survival in the global economy requires Bahamians to be educated on the many issues challenging the Nation, and be allowed meaningful input into the decision making process, through interactive dialogue with the political directorate.
What then is the potential impact of the FTAA on our social and economic life?
It is immediately apparent that in a nation of 300,000 people and a GDP of $4-5billion that we are unable to entertain free movement of labour and services across our borders without severe social and economic dislocation of Bahamians.
Our service based industries ( Tourism and Financial services) are fragile and subject to the economic health of our neighbour, USA. Hence diversification of our economy is imperative.
We currently export lobsters, fish, alcohol, aragonite and some citrus products.
Agriculture is underproductive and desperately needs revitalisation so as to make us self sufficient and less reliant on imports.
Tarif protections must be extended to our farmers to encourage successful local farming. Unfair competition from foreign produce will destroy this industry. Protectionism is a tool employed by all Nations particularly the industrialised nations when it is in their National interest.
The Financial services industry in the Bahamas is still reeling from the impact of the globalisation process following the blacklisting one year ago and it’s long term health is uncertain.
The Tourism Industry is also undergoing challenges due to changing touristic demands and expectations vis a vis cruise ships, shore destinations and ecotourism.
Our environment is at risk from multinational corporations that destroy the land, contaminate the sea and pollute the air.
So it is apparent that our Nation is threatened socially and economically in this globalisation process and we must be weary of what deals we make with the industrialised Nations and ensure that our National interests are preserved and protected.
Opportunities for growth in the service industries however do exist but must be identified and encouraged so that Bahamians can benefit.
Our Nation is clearly at a crossroad in it’s development and will require visionary and strong leadership supported by an informed and educated populace to negotiate the stormy waters ahead.
Our Nation must awaken, arise and face the challenges of globalisation with enthusiasm and the will to succeed.