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Trade Policy aims to break export barriers

By Fay Simmons

Tribune Business Reporter

A Cabinet minister yesterday asserted that the newly-launched National Trade Policy will play a key role in helping to diversify the Bahamian economy through the creative industries plus sectors such as agriculture and fisheries.

Senator Michael Halikits, minister of economic affairs, said the strategy focuses on four key themes - reducing imports, expanding exports, diversifying the country's export base and strengthening economic competitiveness - as part of a wider initiative to drive higher economic growth.

He said: “This policy is a key component of a wider development strategy to diversify the economy, empower Bahamian businesses domestically and internationally, and lower the trade deficit. Key areas that are being targeted by the Government such as niche agricultural and fisheries products, uniquely Bahamian crafts, food and goods, and other green, blue and orange economy products and services, will all benefit from this policy.”

Mr Halkitis said the National Trade Policy, which was formed with input from private sector stakeholders, is focused on improving market access to other countries for Bahamian exporters so that their products are not subject to high tariffs or other barriers to entry that make them uncompetitive.

“The world is constantly moving forward at such a rapid pace, and we must ensure that our policies allow Bahamians to tap into global markets without unnecessarily long processes and exorbitant expenses," Mr Halkitis said. "Our trade policies should make business owners feel like we are helping them to reach an international client base. Instead of jumping through hoops, they should feel like the Government is giving them a boost and that is what we hope to achieve through this policy.”

“Throughout the development of the National Trade Policy, we have worked very closely with many local stakeholders to ensure that their needs and inputs were placed at the forefront of policy development. We have incorporated much of that engagement to ensure that the policy before us today is as strong and comprehensive and inclusive as possible. And as we implement this policy, the key is to remain agile and open to ways we can continue to strengthen the policy in response to local needs.”

Mr Halkitis said external economic and climate-related shocks have highlighted the need for The Bahamas to diversify its economy, which it now hopes to accomplish through increased export trade that will also help to build a more resilient economy.

He added: “The global crisis of multilateralism, increasing protectionist policies and the corresponding slowdown of globalisation has led to an increasingly difficult economic environment for Bahamian exports. And, to add to that, we cannot forget the extent of the damage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The pandemic exposed The Bahamas to severe economic vulnerabilities as a result of our reliance on imports, as well as the need to finance these imports through the exports of both tourism and financial services. And we know that both of those industries took a severe beating, particularly the tourism sector.”

“These crises highlighted the need for diversification towards resiliency. Trade will play a huge role on how we build a new, diverse and more resilient Bahamian economy," Mr Halkitis continued. "While having a robust policy is a tremendous first step, there are many more steps to take in this journey as we explore The Bahamas' true potential for trade.

"What matters most where this policy is concerned is its impact. The true measure of the effectiveness of this policy lies in its ability to empower Bahamian businesses, lower the trade deficit and contribute to the creation of a more resilient and diverse economy.”

“Just as much emphasis will be placed on effective implementation as was placed on the development of the policy and, with practical application, we anticipate that we will continue to work hand in hand with Bahamians to ensure that we are moving toward a future where Bahamian businesses can effortlessly export their products to the world.”

Philip Galanis, the Bahamas Trade Commission's chairman, said: “As a small country, The Bahamas is highly dependent on imports, inclusive of the many essential goods and services. And, in recent years, at least until before the pandemic, trading goods and services was approximately 80 percent of the country's GDP.

“The Bahamas faces challenges in four primary areas as more fully elaborated in the National Trade Policy. One, domestic goods exports are extremely limited. Two, imports are high, as is our goods trade deficit. The trade deficit is quite substantial, and our goods deficit has been substantial, and we are seeking ways in which to try to reduce that. Three, The Bahamas' goods and services exports are extremely concentrated. And four, our productive capacity is limited.”

“To that end, the Bahamas Trade Commission, as a public-private entity related to trade matters, is committed to fostering a spirit of co-operation between the Government and the private sector in the promotion, education and development of trade related matters among the general public," Mr Galanis continued.

"Most trade is conducted by businesses, not by the Government, and affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of Bahamians. Therefore, it will take a combined and collaborative effort on both the part of the Government and the private sector to truly encourage economic diversification in the country.”