Friday, March 22, 2019
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamian economy’s welfare must be “paramount” when the prime minister meets Donald Trump today, an ex-DNA leader warning: “We can’t afford any more hits.”
Branville McCartney told Tribune Business that the interests of The Bahamas and its people must be protected, and the foremost concern, when Dr Hubert Minnis meets the US president amid fears that this nation could be dragged into Washington DC’s battle with China for economic supremacy.
Describing the US and China as “married to each other” whether they admit it or not, Mr McCartney likened The Bahamas’ situation to being a “child” of the unhappy couple whose well-being was the “paramount concern” - at least where the Minnis administration is concerned.
He said today’s meeting at Mr Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida was tantamount to a child visiting one parent at the expense of the other, with the latter affronted that this is occurring despite everything they believe they have done to improve their welfare.
Mr Trump has already provoked local Chinese embassy officials to blast his “irresponsible accusations”, after a White House statement on the meeting with Dr Minnis and other Caribbean leaders said countering Beijing’s “predatory economic practices” would be among the agenda topics.
The Bahamas faces potentially being caught in the geopolitical battle between two economic superpowers, depending on the outcome and fall-out from today’s summit, which has been a situation brewing for some time as a result of China’s extensive investments in a nation - and region - which Washington D. C. considers as lying in its “backyard”.
Besides the $4.2bn Baha Mar project, now owned by Hong Kong-based Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), and China Construction America’s (CCA) acquisition of the British Colonial Hilton and $200m development of The Pointe on adjacent land, China has multiple other interests in this nation. CCA is a Chinese state-owned company, while CTFE’s principals, the Chengs, are well connected with the Chinese communist party.
The $40m North Abaco port was developed by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC); the Thomas A. Robinson Stadium constructed via a $40m “gift” from the Chinese government; and Chinese capital was loaned to The Bahamas to help finance the Airport Gateway road improvements.
The Prime Minister’s meeting with Mr Trump comes at a time when the US is engaged in an increasingly tempestuous trade war with Beijing, both sides slapping tariffs on each’s others imports, amid Washington D. C.’s claims that China has engaged in unfair practices involving intellectual property theft, restricted market access, and forced joint ventures and technology transfers.
Mr McCartney said The Bahamas needed to “delicately” carve out a path between the two feuding giants that avoided upsetting either, given that both were sources of considerable foreign direct investment (FDI) capital and job creation.
However, he pointed out that this nation could not afford to ignore the fact that the US was the market that delivered 85 percent of this nation’s visitors - even though it was the Chinese that built, finance and now own Baha Mar.
The ex-DNA leader said the Prime Minister’s post-meeting briefing on the summit with Mr Trump would be key, and added: “Obviously there seems to be some type of battle. We know for years that China, not only in The Bahamas but throughout the region, has been putting roots in the ground in relation to the US’ backyard.
“The Caribbean is the US backyard, and we are the closest backyard....... I hate to preempt the meeting, but I suspect they will be talking about Chinese influence in The Bahamas, notably Baha Mar and the stadium. I think the Prime Minister will be there to listen, but you never know what Trump is going to say or want to do.
“I certainly suspect this will be about the battle between the two giants, and we’re in the middle of it,” Mr McCartney continued. “His [the Prime Minister’s] job is to do what is in the best interests of The Bahamas, always bearing in mind that the US is our big brother whether we like it or not.
“Most of our tourists come from the US, the Ministry of Tourism has acknowledged that reality, and certainly that must be in the back of the minds of our government. Whatever must be done is to the welfare of this country.
“We’re a small country, location is paramount, and we’re going to have to deal with this very delicately and in the best interests of The Bahamas. How that plays out is difficult to say. It’s one step at a time. The effect on the economy is paramount. We can’t take any more hits.”
Mr McCartney said current Bahamian economic conditions remain “stressful to say the least, doing business and keeping your doors open. We have our own problems with the high cost of living and doing business, which we could have dealt with internally as a country but to-date have failed to do so”.
Calling for The Bahamas to make “informed decisions” based on the outcome of the Trump meeting, and for Bahamians to stay informed, the former DNA leader said the issue was bound to “come to a head” regardless of who was US president.
He added that he “would not be surprised” if China countered by calling a meeting of its own to point out all the investment and development it has financed in The Bahamas, touting Baha Mar’s status as the largest casino in the Caribbean. The US counter its its proximity and the fact “your number one industry is thriving on our citizens”.
“Whether the US and China wish to acknowledge it or not, they’re married to each other,” Mr McCartney said, pointing to their trade, investment and finance ties. “One of their children is The Bahamas. It may not be a good marriage, most marriages never are, but they have a child and from a legal position that is the paramount concern.
“That’s how the Prime Minister must look at it. We’re a child, we’re a paramount concern, and our welfare is paramount.”