02 May 2014


Sir Ronald Sanders
barack_obama_400_690436025In what has to rate as one of the most insensitive and outrageous demands on a Caribbean country, US government representatives have told the Bahamas government that it must drop “all duties” on US products entering the country as a condition of being admitted to membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Should the Bahamas agree to do so, the country would lose the larger part of US$700 million that it earns from duties on imports, the vast majority of which comes from the US for obvious reasons of proximity. In effect, agreement to what amounts to a preposterous request from the US would create such a large hole in the government’s revenues that it would be impossible for it to provide the goods and services that the Bahamian people have a right to expect of their government. Incidentally, that includes fighting drug trafficking and curbing the inflow of refugees on which the US places great emphasis.
What is more, surrender to the US demands would have a wholly decimating effect on such manufacturing that occurs in the Bahamas or that may be introduced in the future as part of a chain of operations that adds value in the course of multi-country production.  If there is a phased approach to the reduction or elimination of duties on US products that compete with theirs, the present manufacturers would have the time to make adjustments to their production and marketing, and thus may survive.
Not unreasonably, the Bahamas Minister for Financial Services, Ryan Pinder, told his country’s Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation that his government rejected the US request on the basis that it would virtually wipe out the domestic economy.
Who are the advisers to the US government on its relations with the Caribbean?  Whoever these persons are, they could not possibly be the US diplomatic staff in the region who would understand, at the very least, the difficult international trade and financial environment in which Caribbean countries are operating.  In that connection, it would be a fair expectation that they would advise the US Trade Representative’s Office that to demand immediate removal of duties on all US products would harm any Caribbean country in whose economic development and social progress they should have a vested interest. The US, as a good friend, should be helping its small neighbours to enter and function in the WTO, not making entry tough for them.
If the US government is surprised when Caribbean governments do not vote with it on resolutions in United Nations bodies and in the Organisation of American States, its officials should understand that US government’s insensitivity to the development challenges of Caribbean nations plays a large part in determining how they vote.