Persons from throughout the business community turned attended the one day Trade and Tax Symposium hosted by The Bahamas Financial Services Board, on December 6, 2007. (Photo/Kristaan Ingraham)
By: Llonella Gilbert
NASSAU, The Bahamas — The Government plans to strategically promote and market the financial services sector within the international community, said Minister of State for Finance the Hon. Zhivargo Laing at the Tax and Trade Symposium, held by The Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB), on December 6, 2007.
Minister Laing explained that the current administration is committed to increasing the country’s profile and presence within the global marketplace.
“In this regard there will increased marketing of the jurisdiction and increased participation and visibility by the Government in conjunction with the Bahamas Financial Services Board in (BFSB) strategic international events,” he said.
Minister Laing also noted that the Government is increasing its commitment to public-private partnerships as part of its mandate to preserve and advance the growth and development of the financial services sector of The Bahamas.
He said part of this endeavor is the Government’s focus on the health of industry associations.
“We were pleased to double our subvention to the BFSB in the current fiscal budget from of $250,000 to $500,000 and to commit to provide a new subvention to the Bahamas Association of Compliance Officers (BACO) of $25,000 for training in the upcoming fiscal budget.”
Minister Laing said the Government is also developing a comprehensive international trade and tax policy.
He added that the most pressing international trade issue for The Bahamas is the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU).
Minister Laing pointed out that while the EPA has been under negotiation from 2002, no region participating in the negotiations stand ready to meet the December 31, 2007 deadline set some five years ago.
“Even CARIFORUM, which seemed most likely in a position to sign onto the EPA by the deadline, is now unlikely to make the deadline, notwithstanding last minute efforts to do so.”
He said, “While CARIFORUM, which is the grouping to which The Bahamas belongs, seeks to sign a comprehensive agreement by the deadline, The Bahamas has offered to the European Union to sign a limited “goods only” agreement and is now awaiting the EU’s response to the offer.”
Minister Laing said a goods-only offer is consistent with overtures made by the EU to countries seeking to meet the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) deadline of December 31.
He added that it is the best offer The Bahamas can make at this time to preserve the access that companies, such as the fisheries exporters and Polymers International, have to the EU market on favorable terms.
He noted that any negotiations toward a services agreement with the EU will come later, but will take place within the broader context of a Bahamas International Trade Policy.
When the Policy is developed within the next six to 12 months, it will ensure that the country is able to deliberate and comprehensively negotiate any and all trade agreements from its accession to the WTO, which The Bahamas will be pursuing actively to the proposed but now stalled Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
Minister Laing said, “Such a comprehensive policy developed by an established, professionally-staffed, academic-research supported International Trade Unit within the Ministry of Finance will ensure that all implications of such agreements for our financial services sector are clearly defined and addressed.”
The Minister added that the Government is seeking full industry input on Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs).
He said it is no secret that the nation is receiving numerous requests from nations across the globe to enter into TIEAs with them.
“While there is mounting pressure in this regard, the Government is determined to receive full input into this issue from the private sector.
“Certainly, for our part, any agreements entered into with other countries must meet the basic requirement of advancing the growth and development of our economy with clearly defined gains.
“There must be open and frank dialogue with industry on this issue because it is not going away and determinations will ultimately have to be made,” Minister Laing said. “We welcome forums such as this and others to be able to explore these issues.”
The Government also wants the elimination of Exchange Control. He noted that his administration has expressed its intention to eliminate exchange control during its term in office. This, of course, will take place to the extent that conditions are supportive.
“In any event,” he said, “we believe and are considering initiatives that can make exchange control more user friendly as well as identify important growth and development opportunities for certain business transactions within the context of existing arrangements.”
Minister Laing said the Government’s ultimate objective is to advance the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Bahamians.
“Financial Services has been important to our wellbeing thus far and will no doubt continue to do so,” he said. “Together we must work to ensure success in this regard.”