Friday, June 9, 2023
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The UK wants to build on last year's 295.1 percent increase in Bahamian exports and thus cure its "historical commercial underrepresentation" in this nation, its trade chief for Latin America and the Caribbean has revealed.
Jonathan Knott, the UK's trade commissioner for the region, in responses to Tribune Business questions during this week's four-day visit to The Bahamas said he wants to further expand the £324m worth of goods and services that this country exported to his during 2022.
Speaking as the UK seeks to reset its trade and business relationships post-Brexit, and its departure from the now-27 state European Union (EU), M Knott said: "The UK has been historically underrepresented commercially in The Bahamas. As the country refocuses after leaving the EU, the UK wants to address that underrepresentation across the region and, in particular, here in The Bahamas.
"The UK in 2022 imported goods and services from The Bahamas valued at £324 million, an increase of 295.1 percent, but I'd like to see that number for UK engagement increase and Bahamians better able to take advantage of what the UK can offer to address priority initiatives.
"I came to the country to help accelerate that process and have visited Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and Abaco as well as Nassau, calling on Bahamian companies and meeting representatives of government. This is all with the aim of identifying the most promising opportunities for UK companies to help Bahamians realise their vision for the country, whether in infrastructure, health or other sectors," Mr Knott added.
"This wasn't a visit to conclude deals or define individual contracts. It was about enabling long-term partnerships which will benefit the citizens of the Bahamas and the UK. The development of these relationships will, I hope, be underpinned by the financing offer which UK Export Finance is making available. The specifics will depend on individual projects but this offer, like my visit itself, shows the determination of the UK to become a long-term partner.
Dr Michael Darville, minister of health, revealed earlier this week that he was due to meet Mr Knott and his team to discuss potential financing sources for the proposed new New Providence hospital in the Perpall Tract area. Tribune Business reported earlier this year that the Government is negotiating with UK Export Finance, London's trade financing and guarantee arm, a potential £750m, or $950m, credit line to finance various infrastructure projects in The Bahamas.
"UK Capability is already helping support Caribbean nations to build resilience in their economies. I leave The Bahamas very much encouraged, and with a clear view of how I hope the UK can be part of The Bahama's continuing development," Mr Knott added.
D’Jamila Ward, regional director for the Commonwealth Caribbean at the UK's Department of Business and Trade, told Tribune Business that Bahamian exporters to the UK now have improved terms for market access after this nation and 13 other Caribbean states signed on to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with London following Brexit and London's withdrawal from the EPA with the EU.
“It very much helps that we have concluded an Economic Partnership Agreement with The Bahamas and 13 other CARIFORUM countries, which came into effect on January 1, 2021," she said. "The EPA is the cornerstone of our trade relationship and is a renewed opportunity to shape a distinct and ambitious partnership with The Bahamas.
"The agreement provides all qualifying Bahamian/CARIFORUM goods (except arms and ammunitions) with duty-free quota-free access to the UK market. For UK businesses, tariffs are gradually phased on approximately 80 percent of goods up to 2033.
"The EPA also provides market access for service providers and covers other modern trade issues such as government procurement, competition policy and intellectual property. I look forward to working with The Bahamas to put the EPA into practice so businesses can realise its full potential."
Thomas Hartley, the UK high commissioner to The Bahamas, added of Mr Knott's visit: "It would have been easy to have spent four days in New Providence, but we wanted to start on the heart of the communities in the Family Islands. Across Grand Bahama, Eleuthera, Abaco and Nassau, we have seen bridges, airports, hospitals, schools, farms, ports and a clear vision from ministers and companies for growth. I really hope the UK can be a supportive part of that plan."
Jesse McDougall, UK Export Finance's head for the North American and Caribbean region, previously confirmed it has a Bahamas "country envelope" worth £750m, or $950m, which is the total available financing that can be allocated to infrastructure projects in this nation where there is "UK content" - meaning that British companies are involved.
In the case of Grand Bahama International Airport, Bahamas Hot Mix (BHM) is "the exporter of record" through its UK office. Ms McDougall, though, explained that the total $950m represents "a global allocation" that is not necessarily drawn down quickly, or all at once, by the borrower. This often occurs over a period of time, "years and years", before it is used up and, in the case of The Bahamas, it is presently seeking just $400m or less than 50 percent of the total available.
The size of the potential financing drawdown and its uses are still being worked out with the Davis administration. The Prime Minister has previously indicated that a portion of the funding may also be used for the overhaul of 14 Family Island airports. UK Export Finance, which serves as the British government's credit agency, is also selective in what it funds, choosing only "qualifying projects" once due diligence is satisfactorily completed.