The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce was recently “treated” to a presentation by Sir Shridath Ramphal, former Secretary General to the Commonwealth. The subject under discussion was the FTAA and CARICOM. It was amiable and informative, but more importantly is was a symbolic call to take up arms in the name of nationalism.
Joining CARICOM has been under discussion for years. All former Prime Ministers deferred signing on as the benefits, if any, were obscure. They still are nationalism notwithstanding.
Joining the FTAA requires changes to laws and the Bahamian system of taxation. Since June 30, 1995 when the Bahamas signed the Ministerial Declaration and Plan of Action for FTAA, few changes to the laws or the taxation system have occurred. The delay to implement the changes necessary might be attributed to the lethargic “Bahamian Way.” But there is obviously a lack of political courage, as the FTAA challenges many of the protectionisms that have become the norm.
Gloomy Days Ahead?
Sir Shridath left the impression that the Bahamas and the Region must present a united front, or be taken over by an Imperialist America. The picture painted was quite graphic with the assurance that the Bahamas can find comfort in the hands of the Caribbean “brotherhood” of CARICOM.
The mantra of the Nationalists is the belief that the 15 Caribbean nations including the Bahamas oppose the process of joining the FTAA. If this is the case, these countries need only find three like-minded nations from either Central or South America to form a majority among the members to change the process to make it palatable for them.
All the while, the negotiations among the 34-nation pact appear to be rolling along with each passing day…with the Bahamas and the Regions full participation. Based on Sir Shridath’s argument, the Bahamas and CARICOM need to decide if they are in or out, or have the courage of their convictions to change the process that is so abhorrent to them.
So, there is a disconnect between what is being said at home and what appears to be happening at the negotiating table. Sir Shridath says the Bahamas Trade Commission is doing a wonderful job, but what is the job? No one seems to know.
On the other hand Sir Shridath states that the Region, which would include the Bahamas as a member of CARICOM, should be cautious about the FTAA. When the question of this double standard was posed, Sir Shridath responded as any good nationalist would by suggesting that the region must protect itself from the great imperialist George Bush.
What was not addressed?
In the end, this country is left wondering why it will not be ready for January 2005 when the FTAA should be implemented.
It is always easy to raise the emotions by appeals to nationalism and blaming others for what is perceived to be a loss. But the basic problems of the country's non-competitiveness lie with a pathetic educational system, children having children they cannot support, the pervasive “tieifing,” and other systemic problems that are never discussed.
This nation must look inward and examine the reasons for its inability to compete, and not blame the so-called Imperialists.