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EPA consultations begin

Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder said March 19 at the opening of a week-long multi-sectoral European Partnership Agreement (EPA) stakeholder consultation that the discussions were imperative in the development of a national EPA Implementation Work Plan by The Bahamas. Pictured: (top) Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder and The Bahamas' Non-Resident High Commissioner to the Caribbean Community Picewell Forbes (below) at the opening ceremony and consultation held at the British Colonial Hilton. (BIS Photos/Eric Rose) 

Thursday, March 21, 2013
Thursday, March 21, 2013

Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder said March 19 that the multi-sectoral European Partnership Agreement (EPA) stakeholder consultation is imperative in the development of a national EPA Implementation Work Plan by The Bahamas.

“This implementation plan is inextricably intertwined with the establishment of a dedicated National EPA Implementation Unit who will hold the mandate to bring to fruition our agreed obligations to the Economic Partnership Agreement,” Minister Pinder said at the opening session of the consultation at the British Colonial Hilton.

“Through this National Consultation, we will establish a fully functional National EPA Implementation Unit, which will work assiduously to meet specified implementation timelines provided for implementation of the EPA,” Minister Pinder added.

“I am confident that this Implementation Unit will streamline the process, and through collaboration from all your ministries and agencies, we can rest assured that this dedicated implementation team will successfully implement the EPA.”

Present at the event were senior government officials, representatives from the private sector and the Caribbean Community.

Minister Pinder welcomed consultant Lawrence Placide–a trade expert with over 20 years of professional experience in the field of international trade and World Trade Organization (WTO) trade issues.

“I would also like to congratulate the technical officers within my Ministry who have worked tirelessly to co-ordinate this multi-sectoral meeting, along with the other activities in this week of consultation, which will lay the foundation for an implementation plan for our momentous step towards a new, transformed relationship with the European Community,” he said.

“This consultation will situate the National EPA Implementation Unit within the overall EPA implementation effort and further clarify its relationship to other public sector institutions.”

Minister Pinder said that in 2008, The Bahamas made commitments, primarily on trade in goods, under the EPA trade agreement between members of the European Union and CARIFORUM, comprising of members of the Caribbean Community and the Dominican Republic.

In October of last year, he continued, the government finalized its commitments under the EPA and the Joint Council of Ministers of Trade under the EPA incorporated The Bahamas’ commitments on trade in services and trade in investment into the agreement.

The overall objective of the negotiations under the EPA, Minister Pinder said, was to negotiate the best opportunity for trade export expansion and economic development to aid the diversification thrust between CARIFORUM and the European Community, and ultimately to provide the backdrop for the development of a value added trade strategy to further expand and diversify the economy of The Bahamas, providing increased economic opportunities for Bahamians.

“Now we are charged with the responsibility to implement the EPA, which ensures that we honour the commitments made and marry it with trade policy for the advancement of our economic model,” Minister Pinder said.

“The CARIFORUM EPA is the first reciprocal multilateral trading agreement of which The Bahamas is a part. It has provided businesses established in The Bahamas preferential access to the markets of the European Union for their goods, services and investments. Moreover, the market access in respect of goods is duty free–quota free.”

Minister Pinder said that the EPA also provides the framework for similar access to the markets of regional partners in CARIFORUM and steps are being taken regionally to bring this to fruition.

“There is considerable potential for growth in trade with the CARIFORUM region, as currently only approximately three per cent of our imports and exports originate and are destined for the region,” he said.

“This spells great potential for exponential growth in trade, specifically in locally made or value added products. Effectively utilized, the EPA will support and increase productive employment in our export sectors; expand the variety of products available on a preferential and less expensive basis for purchase by consumers and businesses; and encourage direct investment in The Bahamas. The benefits to be reaped are substantial.”

The EPA has facilitated greater involvement on the part of The Bahamas within the region, which has already translated to the reinforcement of economic ties between the nation and its neighbours and the building of trade networks, Minister Pinder said.

“We have already engaged other Caribbean countries in bilateral discussions to identify best practices and develop mutually beneficial projects so that we can benefit from the vast expertise of our regional partners to further our economic development, and in turn to share our knowledge,” he added.

Minister Pinder said that, for example, in the case of the Dominican Republic, the government has committed to conclude various Memoranda of Understanding, including a Memorandum on International Trade between the Ministry of Industry and Commerce of the Dominican Republic and his Ministry, which has responsibility for international trade.

“In addition to developing a Business Council with representatives of the private sectors from both countries, our Governments will agree to exchange knowledge on building technical capacity in areas which capitalize on our respective expertise, in the case of The Bahamas trade in services and in the case of the Dominican Republic trade in goods,” Minister Pinder said.

“The Government of The Bahamas has also initiated new dialogue with the Government of the Republic of Haiti on building trade capacity in our respective countries and developing trade projects of mutual benefit,” he added. “For example, we have discussed the possibilities of manufacturing juices in The Bahamas from Haitian agricultural produce.”

Minister Pinder pointed out that the trade policy of the government, however, is not limited to the region.

“Indeed, the government is working feverishly to complete the accession process to enable The Bahamas to become members of the World Trade Organization,” Minister Pinder said. “The Government’s primary objective is to secure further market access for Bahamian goods and services and to create additional beneficial commercial networks, with transparency rules of operation and best international practices.”

With that in mind, Minister Pinder added, discussions with the Republic of Chile plans to receive a mission to assist with a gap analysis of our sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) regime have already taken place.

The government has also engaged discussions with other Latin American countries, such as Brazil and Mexico, evaluating their comparative advantage and looking into collaboration for mutual benefit, he said.

With the conclusion of the EPA negotiations, Minister Pinder said, the formative task at hand is implementation.

“We are committed to the implementation of the EPA and this multi-sectoral consultation, along with bilateral meetings that commenced yesterday [March 18] and will run throughout the rest of this week, will formulate the basis of the national consultation to create a structure for the way forward with our Implementation Plan,” he said.

This National Consultation, he noted, will culminate in a National Implementation Report, which will lay the foundation for proposals to access funding from regional and international sources and cause the implementation that is coordinated with the national value chain trade strategy to advance the interests of Bahamians regionally, and globally.

“The government of The Bahamas has embraced the opportunities under the EPA, and while assiduously working to implement the EPA into our domestic legislative regime, we have fulfilled the commitment to ensure that the public is kept fully abreast of and consulted on each initiative,” Minister Pinder said.

“We have collaborated with the CARTFund under the Caribbean Development Bank in conjunction with the CARICOM Regional Economic Partnership Agreement Implementation Unit to spearhead this consultancy in The Bahamas on EPA Implementation in The Bahamas,” he added.

“The successful implementation of the EPA throughout our public service, and ultimately private sector, will cause for growth opportunities in trade for Bahamians and Bahamian businesses, charting a new path of economic empowerment.”

During his contribution to the 2012/2013 Mid-year Budget Statement in the House of Assembly March 18, Prime Minister Perry Christie said that following through on his government's fiscal plan will create an environment conducive to stronger economic growth and job creation and "place the government in a sustainable fiscal position to be able to fully implement its ambitious policy agenda."

Bimini Bay Resort has begun dredging around the Alice Town dock and constructing a new cruise ship terminal in preparation for larger vessels pulling into harbor from nearby Florida, according to dredgingtoday.com.

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