BHA Committed To Benefitting From EPA Opportunities

A new "layman's" manual on the implications of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) for the Caribbean tourism industry has suggested the trade deal "will not have the beneficial effect which was hoped for" in the area of import duty reductions, as 75 per cent of all goods commonly imported by the industry will see no tariff reductions.

The document, produced by the Caribbean Council, a London-based international consultancy organisation focused on Caribbean development, was released earlier this month and presented to tourism stakeholders at the Caribbean Marketplace 2011, held in Montego Bay, last week.

Entitled Taking advantage of the Economic Partnership Agreement: A manual for the Caribbean tourism sector, the document discusses the offers made in regard to both goods and services sold in the Caribbean, and the opportunities and challenges the EPA presents for the region's top industry. The manual concludes that the EPA "offers significant opportunities to the Caribbean tourism industry over the next decade, and it is vital that the industry takes full advantage of the commitments made by the EU".

Opportunities include the possibility of duty reductions in some areas, "training, technical assistance and capacity building support", opportunities for Caribbean tourism companies to "operate more easily in the EU", protection against anti-competitive practices by EU companies operating in the Caribbean tourism sector, and new market entrants from Europe bringing services that will benefit the tourism industry.

It also warns that the EPA will "cause new competitive threats to the industry, primarily relating to European hotel and other tourism providers being allowed to provide new services in the Caribbean". Such potential threats, however, are "carefully regulated by the agreement" with "measures of protection included in the EPA" laid out in the manual itself.

Responding to the manual's position on the protection of import duties on many goods demanded by the tourism sector, Bahamas Hotel Association president, Stuart Bowe, yesterday suggested the agreement's overall impact in this regard will be a positive one.

He told Tribune Business that while duties "will remain for some categories, the market will become liberalised for many, particularly for major equipment purchases".

"This will ultimately result in less expensive prices for many goods for Bahamian businesses," Mr Bowe said.

Meanwhile, he added that the region and the Bahamas "did well in looking out for the core interests" of "allied members" of the tourism industry, such as tour operators and publishers, by ensuring their service sectors were not subject to "full liberalisation", and therefore "the threat of foreign ownership by large, global EU-based companies".

The manual notes that under the EPA, only around 10 per cent of all import duties were "excluded altogether from any long-term duty reductions" due to governments' desire to protect indigenous industries or revenue streams.

Within this 10 per cent exists a "very substantial proportion of the products the industry currently imports, particularly in the area of foodstuffs".

"As such, the EPA will not have the beneficial effect which was hoped for in terms of dramatically reducing the import costs of the day-to-day requirements of hoteliers and other tourism providers," said the document. It adds that there are examples of more high cost but "less regularly imported" products which were subject in the past to "prohibitively high import duties", like televisions, which will see duty reductions.

However, such items were often subject to duty waivers for the hotel and tourism industry already in many cases, the manual notes.

Mr Bowe and BHA executive vice-president, Frank Comito, attended a workshop during the Caribbean Marketplace 2011 in which the new manual was discussed and, in a statement issued to Tribune Business yesterday, Mr Bowe said the BHA, in conjunction with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, is committed to "finding ways to assist the Bahamas' tourism sector in taking advantage of the EPA opportunities".

Such efforts will involve sharing with its members, both hotels and other tourism operators, information about how they themselves can seek assistance through the EPA's provisions towards becoming more competitive, said Mr Bowe.

He noted that the manual itself states that "immediate opportunities" in this regard exist in the form of "an array of technical assistance" available to Caribbean tourism operators in areas including: environmental management; energy efficiency; developing new Internet marketing strategies; language training exchange programs; promoting eco and sustainable tourism programs; and information technology support.

"The handbook provides a layman's overview of the EPA, aimed at assisting tourism stakeholders in understanding where opportunities will exist for the exchange of goods and services, and where technical assistance will be available to assist the sector. We welcome this tool and will be working with CHTA on finding ways to assist the Bahamas tourism sector in taking advantage of the EPA opportunities," said Mr Bowe.

He added that "over the coming months national hotel associations in the region will explore with CHTA these various opportunities for assistance and, through CHTA, will seek funding support" from the EU via the EPA.

The Tribune