Good morning Minister Gray, John Dinkelman Chargé d’Affaires, United States Embassy Nassau, Officials from the United States Embassy, United States Department of Agriculture, Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, especially those of you who have travelled from the Family Islands, Ministry of Environmental Health and all other Government officers, welcome to this most important initiative and thank you for attending this opening meeting. I would particularly like to thank representatives from the USDA for travelling to Nassau, and accommodating the rescheduling of this event due to the recent storm.
The international trade portfolio of the Bahamas is now within the Ministry of Financial Services, and I assume this responsibility with the highest regard. The establishment of an Enquiry Point / National Notification Authoritative, an international trade obligation is an undertaking that we are obliged to execute on two fronts. Firstly, as a signatory state to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) The Bahamas has committed to establishing an enquiry point for matters related to sanitary and phytosanitary measures. And secondly, The Bahamas is engaged in negotiations for accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). As members of the WTO we will be required to have a more transparent and predictable trade regime, which will serve to benefit Bahamian consumers and businesses.
The enquiry point / notification authority will be a fundamental part of achieving that goal as it will function as a reference point for local importers, and also those persons interested in exporting goods to The Bahamas, which are governed by the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (the ‘SPS Agreement’). The establishment of this enquiry point will propel us one step closer to becoming the 158th Member of the WTO.
The Bahamas stands to benefit tremendously from membership to the WTO. Bahamian products would have access to over 150 countries, and would be subject to the same equal treatment as all other Members. Our geographic position makes The Bahamas a launching pad to some of the largest nations and strongest emerging economies in the world. Securing market access will strengthen our ability to attract investors and ultimately diversify our economy. I see the potential for agriculture to become a significant component of our sector, not just in the context of food security, but also as an industry of international trade, yet I recognize the constraints of the sector in accessing these global markets. The Ministry of Financial Services is earnestly seeking any technical assistance available to the Government and private sector so that we may reap the most benefits as possible, provide the necessary training for the further development of the agricultural industry, and identify additional expansion opportunities.
In the recently signed Trade Sector Support loan for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), over $30,000 was earmarked for capacity building in the areas of plant and animal health, and for the drafting of manuals to assist officers in the execution of the recently drafted Food Safety Bill, Animal Health and Production Bill, and Plant Protection Bill. The activities covered by the trade sector support loan will be underway shortly and will strengthen our ability to regulate not only items imported into the country, but also those we seek to export so that ‘Product of The Bahamas’ becomes synonymous with ‘Product of Quality’.
We look forward to continued initiatives to assist with the establishment of qulaity standards to not only protect the consumers, but to allow our premium domestic producers to have an objective metric and comparison against inferior imported products. We look to initiate the process of establishing a Standards Bureau that will provide this objective measurement of standards of products imported and sold within the Bahamas. Just yesterday I was in Abaco completing my industry tours there. I had the opportunity to meet with the operators of Abaco Big Bird who spoke about just this issue. Abaco Big Bird produces a premium chicken product, yet without objective standards, there is no certification to differentiate their product from sometimes inferior imported product. A Standards Bureau and measurement of quality will allow premium domestic producers such as Abaco Big Bird to better compete in an open market place. The same can be said with domestic egg prodcers who I have also personally met with in my industry tours. They ask for the same protection, Bahamian producers with utmost confidence in the quality of their product seeking an even playing field to compete. We believe in you, the Bahamian producer, and as said, ‘Product of The Bahamas’ can and in cases already is synonymous with ‘Product of Quality’.
We understand that this alone does not address all of the concerns of the sector, both private and public, and continue to look for other avenues of assistance. Very often The Bahamas is excluded from technical assistance initiatives due to our high gross domestic product, which is frequently used as an indicator of development and warrants graduation from support schemes. Although we do not necessarily agree with this position, it is the position frequently taken by the international community. In this regard I would like to thank the United States Government for recognizing our constraints, which stem from various factors not least of which is being an archipelagic state. I know that this training seminar is the second of its kind in recent times and look forward to future initiatives.
In closing I wish you all a productive and fruitful seminar and look forward to informing our colleagues at the WTO that our enquiry point has been established.
Remarks by Ryan Pinder, Minister of Financial Services,
USDA SPS Enquiry Point / Notification Authority Seminar
September 11, 2012