There’s a lot of discussion out there about acronyms — CSME, LNG, FNM, PLP. Elections are coming. Oh, sure, they’re two years away, and we’re not yet at the point when the woodwork meets the worm, but let no one fool you. We’re only going to hear more about acronyms as time goes by.
The thing is, we’re travelling over the same old ground. Take CSME for instance. All we seem willing to talk about, or to listen to, is whether we are going to have free movement of people or not. With LNG, it’s whether we should accept it or not.
But we’re missing the point.
The point is not asking questions to which we already know the answers. We already know that CSME is a done deal, whether we vote for it or not; either this government will sign on to it, or (if we have a referendum and the populace says no for the time being) the next government will, or the one down the line. How do I know this? Because when I lived in Britain, the main goal of the population was how to avoid joining the European Union. Margaret Thatcher and her government were adamant that it would be awful for Britain, awful for the people. But now, Britain’s an integral part of the EU. And Norway, who voted against it in a referendum, are sorry they aren’t, and are moving in that direction. Common markets are the way of the economic future, and if we wish to stay strong, we will have to join the unions; Germany did, and didn’t suffer as a result. And we already know that LNG is not going to go away; if we donâ€™t, we should. The point isn’t to ask the questions we’re already asking.
The point is to ask the right questions.
Take LNG, for instance — liquid natural gas. Everybody’s asking about the environment and the industry’s impact — good questions, but ones which have already been answered, if we look hard enough. There’s no point in avoiding either side of the story; the facts are out there (try the internet) if we want to find them.
But here are a couple of questions whose answers may not be so easy to find. And they’re the ones that really have some meaning. For instance:
Where is this liquid natural gas coming from, anyway? Is it being mined somewhere else, like off the Florida Keys, or is it Bahamian? If it’s being mined elsewhere, why does it have to be piped through our waters?
If it’s ours, why the heck are we selling it to Florida? Why, in this day and age of soaring oil prices, isn’t BEC talking about converting some of its plants to LNG?
You see, it’s quite true that natural gas is a cleaner fuel than oil. Well, hello. If we’re suffering from rising electricity rates because of the high cost of oil, and we’re looking to diversify our economy and become more self-sufficient, and we have natural gas in our own waters, then why aren’t we looking to develop our own industry, instead of allowing Florida access to our natural resource?
It seems to me that the answer to those questions is far more open and exciting than the answers to the questions we’re asking right now.
Or take CSME as another example. Weâ€™re spending all our time worrying about the free movement of people, as though joining the CSME will change one thing about the number of Caribbean people we allow to work here. Considering that The Bahamas has the highest ratio of Caribbean workers of all Caricom members, that worry is, frankly, alarmist and a little misplaced, and we already know the answer to the questions we’re asking; we just don’t want to admit the truth.
What we’re not asking, what we’re not discussing at all, are other acronyms that are far, far more insidious than CSME and far more dangerous to the Bahamian economy — acronyms like WTO and FTAA, for instance, to which we are just as committed as CSME, and whose implications are far, far more worrisome.
As far as the FTAA goes, thank heaven the talks are stalled, otherwise we would already be a member. But just in case things get started again, just in case the USA grows to accept the brakes put on it by Brazil and Argentina, here are some questions we should be asking there:
Who will the FTAA benefit? How will it help us? How much clout do we, a nation of under 500,000 people, have against giants like Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, the USA and Canada? Why aren’t we paying attention to that apparently free market?
The real danger to us, though, is the WTO, and it is because of that danger that joining the CSME (if only we were asking the right questions) makes sense. According to the conventions of the WTO, please note, no country may set up any barriers to trade in goods or services on a national basis. There can be no protectionism whatsoever; all people who wish to trade with you must be treated like nationals of your country. So take the Walmart/Kmart proposal of some years ago. Under the WTO, The Bahamas would have no right to choose to support the Bahamian department stores over those megoliths; Walmart and Kmart would the same standing under the agreement as Kelly’s. The market, you see, will be free. The Bahamas is insignificant in the Americas. Where do you imagine we stand in the world? A nation of under half a million people cannot negotiate at any table with the EU (one unit), the USA, or Japan. Perhaps the right question isn’t who the CSME will let in; perhaps it’s whether we can survive without it.
Asking the right questions, you see, isn’t a matter of losing or winning a battle to be fought in the polls two years from now. Asking the right questions is imperative for each of us because we can determine what kind of future our children will have. Let’s forget our narrowness and our fears, and ask the questions that will ensure our survival and prosperity in the future.