Members of Parliament, Senators and other Government officials participated in a luncheon forum Wednesday, June 2008, to gain insight into the provisions of the proposed Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union.

In a presentation at the British Colonial Hilton, Minister of State for Finance the Hon. Zhivargo Laing shared what obligations The Bahamas and the European Union would have under the EPA, “so that there is an understanding of what the agreement is.”

The EPA is being negotiated between the countries of the European Union and the Forum of the Caribbean Countries (CARIFORUM). The proposed date for signing the agreement is July 23, 2008.

The objectives of the EPA is to reduce poverty, promote regional integration and economic cooperation, integrate CARIFORUM States into the world economy, improve capacity in trade policy in CARIFORUM, increase investment and private sector initiative, and enhance commercial and economic relations.

Mr. Laing said, “We try to lay it out in such a way that it was logical and clear for them to appreciate; something that also has to be done for the general population as well.”

He explained that the agreement calls for liberalisation in two areas – goods and services. Goods meaning that EU imports into The Bahamas would be subject to reduced duties over a 25-year period. Similarly, exports to the EU would be subject to duty free access.

“The other area is services, in which the question is one of transparency. They want us to define what the rules are in relation to investing in The Bahamas in any given service area,” Mr. Laing said. “So, really we need to make an offer in terms of what we are prepared to allow and what we are not prepared to allow.”

He added, “At the end of the day, what is being sought is an environment that is clear and transparent for trade between CARIFORUM countries, of which we are a part, and the European Union.”

Mr Laing said the ministry has almost completed its extensive consultation with industry partners on the offer. There is a final review of the offer that has to be done by the Government before anything is sent forward.

To the reservations held in some quarters regarding the EPA, Mr. Laing acknowledged that this is the case in a number of countries where free trade agreements are being negotiated.

“What is required of us is to do as much educating as possible and to understand for ourselves what is in the interest of The Bahamas and to ensure that whatever we perceive, we perceive with knowing that it did not harm this country,” he said.

A similar meeting is scheduled to be held with the Bahamas Christian Council and other sectors of society in the coming weeks.