Minister for Housing and National Insurance the Hon. Kenneth Russell told members of the Bahamas Cooperative League limited to prepare for unprecedented economic changes, both locally, regionally and internationally, on Friday, May 30, 2008.

Minister Russell was addressing the 29th Annual General Meeting of the Bahamas Co-operative League, at the Our Lucaya Resort. The two-day forum attracted Co-operatives from throughout The Bahamas.

A Grand Bahamian and Member of Parliament for the High Rock Constituency, Mr. Russell spoke on behalf of Minister of Lands and Local Government the Hon. Sidney Collie, who was out of the country on official business.

Minister Russell told the gathering that their leadership must strive to expand upon their knowledge of regional and international issues that continue to emerge, such as the stress that continues to challenge the vibrancy of the United States economy, the issues surrounding regional trade and the Economic Partnership Agreement that is expected to be implemented soon.

He explained that, for many years, countries across the Caribbean have benefited from special trade agreement with the European Union such as the LOME Conventions and Cotonou Agreements.

“However, for these benefits to continue, countries in the Caribbean, particularly the 15 member CARICOM States, must adjust practices to remain competitive and to have favoured access to European markets.

“The Economic Partnership Agreement being negotiated between CARIFORUM, which includes all countries of CARICOM, offers an opportunity for both sides to strengthen trade,” Mr. Russell stated.

He said that the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) is essentially a reciprocal trade and development agreement that covers market access in goods, services and other trade related issues that will allow Caribbean and European goods to enter the respective markets, duty free and quota free.

“The impact of this agreement on The Bahamas, once signed, will be significant, as it will introduce new measures to modernize and to improve Custom protocols and regimes.

“This new trade agreement will perhaps present a challenging period of adjustments for The Bahamas, in the face of regional competition, as it will relax barriers to trade and investment,” he said.

Mr. Russell also told the cooperative members that they must be mindful that countries around the world are looking to and moving towards the concept of an integrated regulator of financial services, a concept that he said is also expected to embrace services offered by credit unions.

He advised that the Government of The Bahamas has appointed a “Steering Committee of the Integration of The Financial Services Regulators,” and that its membership includes representatives from the financial services industry, with the Bahamas Cooperative League and others included as observers.

“I invite you therefore, to prepare your league and its members for the changes that will play a significant part on the way forward for regional and international economies,” he said.

In addition to the global changes and threats, the Minister also advised that the new Cooperative Societies Regulation 2008 is expected to add efficiency and a model to the management and operation of local societies.

He thanked the League for its contribution to the document, stating that, when passed and implemented, it will serve its intended purpose by enhancing the operation of their individual societies.