By Candia Dames
23rd May 2005
The raging debate over the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) continued on Sunday as Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell locked horns with a leading attorney over various aspects of the agreement, which has created much furor in recent weeks.
A heated exchange between Minister Mitchell and Brian Moree on the Love 97 programme "Jones and Company" led to the attorney lashing out at the Minister over certain comments he made.
Throughout the show, Minister Mitchell, who at times appeared frustrated over what he termed misinformation on CSME, insisted that there will be no fundamental changes if The Bahamas signs onto to the agreement.
"What I’m saying is, let’s not frighten ourselves by saying that there is going to be some fundamental change," he said.
"There is going to be no fundamental change and as for whether the reservations will last, I cannot say. I can only speak for the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas today."
There continues to be great confusion over whether the reservations the government is seeking will last indefinitely. Several prominent figures, including Mr. Moree, have insisted that they are merely deferrals.
The government has said that at this time, The Bahamas will not participate in the free movement of people; the Caribbean Court of Justice at the appellate level, the single currency and monetary union, and the Common External Tariff.
Mr. Moree believes it is senseless to join an agreement and opt out of its major fundamental provisions.
"If you look at the literature that comes out of the southern Caribbean on the CSME, it seems to make the point very strongly that the CSME is a pipedream if it does not involve full integration of the peoples of the Caribbean countries," said Moree, who also heads the government-appointed Financial Services.
"There has to be political integration; there has to be full economic union. When you get there, is perhaps debatable- and whether all countries get there at the same time is perhaps debatable. The fundamental point is that these reservations do not mean that we are not going to be required to deal with these issues at some point in the future. Before I get into something, I want to look at the future. I don’t have the luxury of mortgaging my children’s future."
But Minister Mitchell shot back, "This emotive language is simply irresponsible."
It’s a statement Mr. Moree took exception with.
"Minister, we should keep the level of debate high out of respect for your office," he said. "I am not irresponsible."
"I said the language was irresponsible," Minister Mitchell corrected him.
Mr. Moree responded, "That is a view, Minister…The Government of The Bahamas should listen to its people."
"I am listening to you, Mr. Moree," the Minister said. "I am saying that if you want to keep the debate responsible we have to deal with the facts and the facts are that there will be no fundamental change."
Mr. Moree fired back, "But that is wrong and very few people agree with you."
Minister Mitchell insisted that that statement was simply incorrect.
"You’re talking economic theory," he told Mr. Moree.
"I am talking what the facts are as presented by the Government of The Bahamas. Those facts are that reservations exist- and there is no timing on those reservations and so the treaty as far as those provisions will apply, will not apply to The Bahamas. How many times does one have to say [that]?"
Mr. Moree suggested sarcastically that the Minister "holds all wisdom" and is intolerant of anyone who opposes him on CSME. But Minister Mitchell said this was not the case.
He said signing the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas is "really about our continued participation in CARICOM…What we are doing or proposing is to finish the work of becoming incorporated into CARICOM since the treaty is to come into force at the end of the year and maintaining our position with regard to the status quo as far as our relations with CARICOM is concerned by entering reservations pursuant to Article 237 of the treaty, which really puts us in the same position which we are in now."
The show’s host, Wendall Jones, said, "The detractors of this say it makes no sense for The Bahamas to sign on to CSME because fundamentally, the economic side is fundamentally what CSME is all about."
"CARICOM is both political and economic, and the government’s case has always been that we’re a part of CARICOM for geopolitical reasons- and that now that we have the [Revised] Treaty of Chaguaramas, if we are to be fully a part of CARICOM, we should sign the treaty with the reservations, which will serve our national interest."
Mr. Jones then asked, "Are you suggesting therefore that if we do not sign the treaty then we are not a part of CARICOM or should not be a part of CARICOM?"
The Minister explained that, "The great beauty of the CARICOM movement is it isn’t one of these hard and fast, black and white issues. The fact is we do participate in all of the organs of the community at the moment, but it is just appropriate for us to be signatories to the treaty. Everyone else in the community is a signatory to the treaty."
He added, "I believe that [the government should sign the treaty]. In fact, the government decided on December 31 that we ought to do that, subject to obtaining the reservations which we have advanced in the public domain."
But Mr. Moree said, "I do not think that The Bahamas should join a single economy with 14 other countries within the region. That is my primary concern. I don’t think there are compelling economic interests for The Bahamas to join this single economy."
He was echoing sentiments expressed in recent times by former Governor of the Central Bank and former Minister of Finance Sir William Allen, and soon to be former Governor of the Central Bank Julian Francis.
Mr. Moree said, "The reservations that the Minister has indicated I think are very important, but there are many questions as to how long these reservations will continue. Who will decide when they end? Do we retain control over making these decisions? And in any event, what about the right of establishment, which is not currently one of the four reservations? What is the impact of the freedom of movement of skilled persons… as opposed to the free movement of labour generally?"
The Minister explained, "The right of establishment will not affect the retail and wholesale trades in The Bahamas because the right of establishment has to deal with those areas of the economy which are foreign exchange earners for the particular country. These sectors include, amongst others, the hotel sector, the manufacturing export sector and some smaller areas like specialty restaurants.
"What right of establishment does is it gives you when you invest in a country the right to bring certain skilled labour to run your establishment. If you look at the national investment policy of The Bahamas today, all of those areas that I have listed are already areas where foreign investors are able to come and invest in the country and part of the policy is that they are permitted to have the skilled labour to run their companies. So it balances out."
While the Minister insisted throughout the show that signing the Revised Treaty of Chauguaramas would be merely a political move, Bahamas High Commissioner to CARICOM A. Leonard Archer said recently in an interview with The Bahama Journal that there are many economic benefits that will come if the government signs on to CSME.
Mr. Archer said that by signing the CSME, The Bahamas would see "increased investments and increased trade with the rest of the Caribbean."
Minister Mitchell said in a recent speech that not signing on to the CSME would have serious negative implications for the country’s social and economic infrastructure that would set The Bahamas "at a serious disadvantage as a country, rather than enhance our growth and development, in that, our access to the facilities and services provided by the Caribbean Development Bank, the University of the West Indies, the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Response Agency and others, would be greatly diminished."
"We would be the only country in the Caribbean, apart from Cuba, that would be outside a regional trade bloc; and since trade blocs provide benefits for their members that are not provided to non-members, it could easily be reasoned that our tourism industry, our manufacturing industry, our beleaguered agriculture industry and even our financial services industry would be immediately and negatively affected, largely in terms of the relatively higher cost of doing business in The Bahamas that we would have invited by trying to stand alone," Minister Mitchell said.