**The FTAA Context**
Mr. Michael Halkitis, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, addressed delegates participating in last week’s International Labour Conference on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
He pointed out that arising out of the San Jose Trade Ministerial of 1998, a Joint (Government/Private Sector) Committee of Experts on Electronic Commerce was established to make recommendations to ministers on:
(a) how to increase and broaden the benefits of electronic commerce; and
(b) how electronic commerce should be dealt with in the context of the FTAA negotiations
Since that time, the Committee has asked countries participating in the FTAA process to:
– promote access to public telecommunications networks on a non-discriminatory basis;
– provide for the great majority of their citizens to participate in the process and to increase their awareness of the new technology;
– promote/use ecommerce in government-to-government, government -to-business and government-to- individual transactions;
– develop codes of conduct to protect individual privacy and ensure consumer protection to online customers, in a manner similar to that afforded to traditional customers.
In addition, governments have been asked to:
– jointly with the private sector, consider the development and implementation of national strategies for ecommerce;
– foster the development of an environment in which business-to -business electronic commerce can continue to flourish;
– foster a suitable framework for electronic commerce in the legal system of each country.
Mr. Halkitis noted that all of these things are intended to reform and modernise economies to meet the challenges of a changing technological world; that being said, he continued, The Bahamas might well consider adopting some of these reforms whether or not it enters into free trade agreements with countries in this hemisphere.
In fact, the Government of The Bahamas has initiated a comprehensive review of the ecommerce potential of the nation, with a view towards establishing clear policy guidelines and a series of supportive programmes to foster an environment within which ecommerce can evolve. Said Mr. Halkitis, *”There is a view that a well-designed ecommerce development strategy could position The Bahamas to compete on a level playing field in the global economy, generate high-end jobs for Bahamians, and ultimately lead to overall economic growth and development for the country.”*
The Parliamentary Secretary pointed out to conference delegates that it is expected the Government’s ecommerce strategy will be guided by the following policy issues:
– the principle of universal access that ensures the availability of Internet access to all Bahamians, at affordable prices;
– a universal service policy that guarantees Internet access free of charge to educational, health and other selected private and public sector institutions;
– the creation of an internationally compatible legal and regulatory framework that accommodates rules for commercial transactions;
– a conducive system for the protection of intellectual property rights in cyberspace;
– security, interoperability and interconnection of information systems;
– protection for personal information, confidentiality of consumer related matters;
– privacy; and
– the development of technologically competent human resource capabilities.
The Hon. Allyson Maynard-Gibson, under whose Ministry of Financial Services and Investments falls responsibility for “bringing focus to the ways and means by which ecommerce activity can benefit The Bahamas”, reported recently that Government is seeking to establish a technology park in Grand Bahama, to act as the backbone of the country’s ecommerce industry. * “I don’t think there is a better location in the entire Bahamas really for the location of business ecommerce,”* she said.
Speaking at a BFSB-sponsored Ecommerce Seminar earlier this year, Carey Leonard, Deputy Counsel General for the Grand Bahama Port Authority, reported on the creation of the island’s Sea/Air Business Centre. Specifically, the development of a competitive marine centre and enhanced airlift to the island has positioned Grand Bahama well for growth of the telecommunications sector. State-of-the-art infrastructure and services cater to call centres, data centres, and teleporting. Two fibre optic cables connecting Freeport to the backbone of the www provide for continuous flow of data and voice communications. At that time, he confirmed that it was an immediate goal of the GBPA to create a major ebusiness center on the island.
More than 50% of Grand Bahama is considered computer savvy, and the developments within the timeshare and hotel construction sectors, for example, have established a ready market for ISPs. Mr. Leonard noted that the existing infrastructure can support a growth to a population of 250,000 – almost five times the current 50,000+.