The Bahamas has taken on the Chairmanship of the Services Negotiating Group as the FTAA Negotiating Process moves towards 2005. The Negotiating Group succeeded the Services Working Group established after the first Summit of the Americas in 1994, and which concluded its preparatory work leading up to the second Summit in 1998. Nine Negotiating Groups were appointed at that time.

In commenting on the Chairmanship, Prime Minister Hubert A. Ingraham said, “This is a very high honour for The Bahamas, in that no other CARICOM country is chairing any of the critical areas in the process”. The Bahamas was proposed for the position by the United States and Argentina. H.E. James Smith, a former Governor of the Central Bank of The Bahamas and now currently the nation’s Ambassador for Trade, will hold the Chairmanship.

The Prime Minister also noted that Ambassador Smith’s role would be critical from the perspective of The Bahamas. “The one area in which The Bahamas can be competitive is in the area of the provision of services. We’re not the producers of goods. We do have expertise and knowledge and experience in the provision of services. Tourism is a major part of our way of life and, so, that we know. We are (also) in the financial services business.” Prime Minister Ingraham pointed out that there will be further opportunities for e-commerce and other mobile services – and the Government’s commitment to education will ensure that the Bahamian people will be able to take advantage of these new opportunities.

Last weekend 34 Western Hemisphere leaders signed the Declaration of Quebec, committing to a hemisphere-wide free trade area by the end of 2005. The Declaration also committed the leaders to democracy, respect for human rights and sustainable development. The Declaration concluded the 3rd Summit of the Americas being held in Quebec City, Canada. Hemispheric leaders also issued a Plan of Action, providing for the finalising of trade negotiations by January 2005, with the Free Trade Area of the Americas implemented no later than in December of that year.