The Bahamas government yesterday signed three agreements with the Haitian government intended to further trade development between the countries and lead to a decrease in illegal migration from Haiti to The Bahamas. The signings took place during the visit of Haitian President Michel Martelly to The Bahamas.
The agreements include a framework for bilateral cooperation, an agreement on trade and technical cooperation in agriculture and fisheries, and an agreement on the promotion and protection of investments. More specifically, the agricultural agreement allows Haiti to export fresh fruit to The Bahamas.
Talking up his country, Martelly said one way to curtail illegal migration would be for Bahamians to invest in Haiti.
"The people that come here, they don't come here because they don't love their country," he said. "They come here because they want a better life.
"So if we can bring the better life to them by getting investors to go to Haiti to invest in bananas, in mango, in corn, in rice and in vegetables...that would be good enough."
Many Bahamians are stuck in a bigoted view of Haiti and Haitians. That country is the poorest in the hemisphere and its people have long been fleeing to other nations in search of better lives.
The discussion here when it comes Haiti is too often just about the illegal migration of Haitians to The Bahamas. There is money to be made in Haiti by Bahamians.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects Haiti's real GDP to grow by four percent this year and the same amount in 2015. The World Bank notes that the positive trends in Haiti's economy can primarily be attributed to a pick-up in agricultural production and the construction and industrial sectors – particularly the textile and garment industries.
In his opening remarks at a luncheon hosted by the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) at the British Colonial Hilton yesterday, Martelly challenged the international perception of Haiti as a country dependent on donations and international aid, stating that the country is "distancing [itself] from aid and inviting trade".
Members of Martelly's delegation stressed the opportunities in the power, construction and agricultural sectors that Haiti offered Bahamian businesses, also calling for Bahamian assistance in strengthening Haitian financial services.
While some Bahamians remain stuck in the view of Haiti as an eternal basket case from which our immigration problems originate, BCCEC CEO Edison Sumner is wise to the gradual transformation down south, describing the growing market in northern Haiti as a "new hot spot for the incubation and expansion of business" between the two countries.
Bahamians and Haitians now need to shift the myopic discourse that has evolved between us. We need to focus on the wealth that can be created by doing business together rather than being paranoid by the number of Haitians living in The Bahamas.