In a recent presentation to the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce, H.E. Peter Heigl addressed a number of issues, including world trade development and liberalisation, international terrorism, and multinational co-operation. He pointed out that the High Commission’s commercial interests in The Bahamas go far beyond import and export issues. For example, these interests often involve long term trade relations matters such as the recent European Union and Latin America/Caribbean talks in Madrid and the EU/African Caribbean Pacific Group of States conference due later in 2002. *”We have all been massaging along the huge improvements which have been made in world trading arrangements in the last half century under GATT and now the WTO,”* said Mr. Heigl.
Specifically referencing the concerns of smaller economies in ongoing FTAA negotiations, the High Commissioner said the hope is that any such agreement, like the new Doha round of trade negotiations, will benefit not just major countries and multi-national corporations but raise the living standards of poorer nations of the hemisphere and protect the economies of its weaker and developing members.
Full trade liberalisation could lift at least 300 Million people out of poverty by 2015. Even diminishing protection by 50% in agriculture, industrial goods and services would increase the worlds’ annual income by $400 Billion: a boost to growth of 1.4%. All countries and regions stand to benefit from these aspirations with developing countries likely to gain an estimated $150 Billion a year and higher than average increases in GDP growth.
*”This is why my government strongly welcomes the WTO Agreement in Doha to launch a new trade round focused on development and wish The Bahamas well with its recent application for WTO membership,”*continued the High Commissioner.
Whilst the multi-national corporations should benefit from international trade liberalisation, Mr. Heigl said it is questionable whether their interests and influential voices should in future have such an overwhelmingly dominant influence in trade liberalisation matters. *”I would ask whether it is not time now to soften the hard edged exclusively commercial approach major countries and trading blocs often take in multi-lateral discussions to ensure the interests of small, developing and vulnerable nations are more consciously included – with concessions made and technical assistance and preferences offered.”*
This approach was advocated instead of one that could risk marginalised nations facing political instability, economic collapse and poverty as a result of the world’s disinterest at their plight. These consequences can result in the need for large humanitarian aid programmes to economies crippled by overwhelming commercial processes which have sidelined or ignored their interests.
The United Kingdom as one of the largest trading nations in the world has much national interest in world trade growth and, according to Mr. Heigl, consistently has encouraged more equitable trading arrangements world wide to enable small and developing countries to benefit from global liberalisation.
The commercial work at the British High Commission also includes observation of economic performance and management in the host countries, and Mr. Heigl expressed pleasure at having been able to highly commend The Bahamas in this connection over recent years. Sympathising with The Bahamas on the current shortfall in revenues caused by an economic slowdown since the 4th quarter of 2001, he noted with interest the new government’s intention to sharpen up the performances of poorly performing public corporations.
In this connection, he referenced the 1980s’ low productivity of nationalised industries in the U.K., such entities occupying some 20% of the economy there. Although these were “de nationalised” and returned to the disciplines of the private sector, the U.K. Government put in place a system of public utility supervision bodies to ensure a balance between private shareholder, employee and customer interests. A process, he said, which by and large has been a huge shot in the arm to stimulate the British economy. *”My government and the City of London – which is probably the leading centre in the world of privatisation expertise – stand ready to help the Government of The Bahamas with its economic choices.”*
In addition to tariff reductions, and a host of preferential arrangements to encourage better access to UK and EU markets, the High Commission also seeks to assist The Bahamas directly by arranging information exchange visits. *”This might include City of London financial advisers on financial services industry problems or senior members of The Bahamas judiciary keen to improve the commercial courts here,”*said Mr. Heigl.
Speaking to the worldwide economic recovery, Mr. Heigl said the last 6 months have demonstrated that the fears of a global recession have not been realised and independent forecasters are now expecting that the world economy will grow faster than they did a few months ago.
On a global basis there has been a forward looking, co-ordinated response to the events of 11 September, with interest rates brought down and co-operation in the fight against terrorist financing. The High Commissioner paid tribute to*”The Bahamas’ significant role in this international co-operation with its accession to recent UN Conventions, new financial services supervision laws, improved international judicial assistance arrangements and Financial Intelligence Unit establishment.”*
Governments and businesses on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world must continue to show that they will not succumb or surrender to the threats of terrorists. There must be a collective effort to push forward an agenda to improve the stability and confidence of the global economy, working together to fight international terrorism. *”This not only is central to long term national security and business prosperity, but also is right, a moral imperative, an economic necessity and a social duty,”* said Mr. Heigl.
Describing the war on international terrorism as a new kind of struggle which will require new approaches, the High Commissioner further said this will dominate the international security agenda for the foreseeable future. Its ramifications spill over into many fields not least that of commerce and industry. Of particular importance to The Bahamas are the global efforts being made to improve financial surveyance and controls. *”Cherchez l’argent has become a new watch word. Trace the money flows, enforce transparency in the global banking system and we can begin to control the flows of cash and arms which fuel so many conflicts,”* he said.