Published On: Wed, Nov 2nd, 2016

Bahamas minister in tangle over $2-billion Chinese project

alfred_gray3NASSAU - Hours after minister of agriculture and marine resources Alfred Gray acknowledged to reporters that he gave the go-ahead for the Bahamas Embassy in China to have discussions with the Chinese government on a $2.1 billion proposal for an agri-fisheries project, Gray claimed in a statement that The Nassau Guardian’s story detailing the proposal was “utterly false”.

“The government is not considering the grant of Crown land nor any other matter as set out in the article,” he said.

However, in a letter to Bahamas ambassador to China Paul “Andy” Gomez, dated October 3, Gray acknowledged that the initiative calls for Crown land leases. He also indicated in the letter that he thinks the proposal is a good idea.

“The ministry believes that this initiative, which has been developed by the Embassy of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas to the People’s Republic of China in consultation with certain Bahamian governmental agencies, is very progressive,” the minister wrote in the letter.

Gray then authorized the ambassador to pursue the initiative further.

“As a result of our understanding of how the initiative is expected to work, and in response to your request for our ministry’s authorization for the embassy in Beijing to proceed with the further development of this initiative, the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources hereby authorizes the Embassy of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas to the People’s Republic of China to initiate discussions with the Chinese embassy here in The Bahamas, and with the relevant Chinese governmental agencies in China, in order to produce a comprehensive report on the viability of the proposed initiative,” the minister wrote.

The letter confirms that Gray met with the Bahamian ambassador on the proposal.

The minister wrote in his letter, “Further to our recent meeting regarding the captioned, please be advised that the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources has had an opportunity to review the final draft of ‘the Proposed China-Bahamas Agriculture and Fisheries Initiative’, and believe that it could be a very impactful project that economically benefits hundreds of Bahamian families for decades, provided that the level of investment sought is viewed by the Chinese government as acceptable.”

Gray then outlined the primary features of the initiative as understood by his ministry.

Under the proposal, China, or its substantive representative(s), will partner with Bahamian corporate entities to form up to 100 corporate structures that will be engaged primarily in the agriculture and fisheries industry in The Bahamas.

Each of the 100 corporate structures will be owned equally (that is, 50-50) by China and Bahamian corporate entities.

China will provide funding equivalent to $2.1 billion over a ten-year period, in the form of cash, agriculture and fisheries equipment, as well as skilled expertise.

Gray wrote that, “Each Bahamian owned entity that partners equally with the PR will contribute the following to the joint venture: one hundred acres of leased Andros farm land with an option to access 100 additional acres, provided certain performance benchmarks are attained.

“Unprofitable entities that end in liquidation will have their land leases canceled by the Bahamas government.

“A cash contribution of $225,000 must be paid at the start of each entity’s operations (i.e. required contributions of $25,000 by each of the ten shareholders equals $250,000, less $25,000 for entity’s administrative expenses).

“The Government of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas will provide fishing licences to each of the 100 corporate entities participating in the initiative, consistent with existing laws.”

Gray wrote: “Only Bahamian farmers and farm labourers, along with Bahamian fishermen, will make up the initiative’s workforce.

“The Bahamas government recognizes that each entity will probably require the services of one fishing and one farming expert for a limited period, who will probably be Chinese.”

Gray also wrote: “Furthermore, and central to your discussions with representatives of the Chinese government, it is important to emphasize that it is the Bahamas government’s policy that no foreigner is allowed to physically fish in Bahamian waters by himself or in partnership with others, and therefore only Bahamians are allowed on the fishing vessels.

“This is non-negotiable, and your report should therefore reflect this policy position of the government.”

Gray added in his October letter to Gomez: “... Consistent with the government policy, foreign investors may own and may participate in the ownership of related land-based activities, such as processing and packaging houses for agricultural and fishing products.”

The Bahamas embassy was also asked to provide recommendations to the Bahamas government “specifically in the event that the Chinese government wishes to proceed and participate in this joint venture initiative”.

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As reported by The Nassau Guardian, the actual proposal states that the initiative hopes to qualify for funding under a regional program of the Chinese government, which has budgeted $35 billion for such initiatives.

Last night, the Bahamas Embassy in Beijing released the following statement on the matter: “In pursuit of my responsibilities as ambassador to China I have engaged in vigorous discussions within China to generate new economic activity for The Bahamas.

“The objective is to attract and create new activities and opportunities for Bahamians and our country. The issue that has raised attention in the local media is along those lines.

“I sought and received permission from the minister responsible for agriculture and fisheries merely to continue dialogue and to prepare reports on the economic possibilities in China. That is what happened. We are presently evaluating the possibilities in China. No report or proposal has been submitted to the minister of foreign affairs or minister of agriculture and fisheries or any other minister of the government of The Bahamas.”

Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian

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