Australia and the Bahamas enjoy friendly relations, based on our shared membership of the Commonwealth and other historical, social and cultural links. Both countries also cooperate in the United Nations and various international fora to address a range of transnational challenges.
The Bahamas' foreign policy priorities are influenced strongly by the country's close proximity to, and relations with, the United States, as well as its role in the Caribbean region.
The Bahamas is a member of the main Caribbean decision-making body (CARICOM) and enjoys generally positive relations with the Caribbean region.
Multilaterally, the Bahamas is a member of a wide range of organisations, including the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries, the Non-Aligned Movement and the G77. The Bahamas is also a member of the Organisation of American States. Consistent with the Australian Government's commitment to strengthening relations with the Caribbean, the Government formally established relations with CARICOM through a Memorandum of Understanding signed by Mr Rudd, as Prime Minister, in the margins of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago on 29 November 2009.
Australia's High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, resident in Port of Spain, is accredited to the Bahamas.
The Bahamas is a democracy based on the Westminster parliamentary system. The British settled the islands in 1647, with the Bahamas becoming a colony of the United Kingdom in 1783. Independence from Britain was achieved on 10 July 1973.
The Head of State of the Bahamas is Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a Governor-General, who is appointed on the advice of the cabinet. The national legislature consists of a 41-member House of Assembly, to which members are directly elected for a maximum period of five years. The Prime Minister, the leader of the party with most seats in the House of Assembly, is appointed by the Governor-General. The upper house, a 16-member Senate, comprises nine members appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, four on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and three on the advice of the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition.
At the 2 May 2007 general election, the Free National Movement, led by Hubert Ingraham, won 23 of the 41 House of Assembly seats and defeated the Progressive Liberal Party Government led by Perry Christie. Mr Ingraham was formerly Prime Minister of the Bahamas from 1992-2002.
The economy of the Bahamas is heavily dependent on the tourism and off-shore banking sectors. Tourism alone, directly or indirectly, employs around 60 per cent of the country's workforce.
Economic growth is interlinked with the performance of the US economy, which is the major source of tourism for the Bahamas. Tourism-related construction is the mainstay of the economy, and the construction sector is expected to benefit from numerous tourist-related investment programs.
The Bahamas relies heavily on customs duties for revenue and, as a consequence, treats the issue of free trade cautiously. The Bahamas is currently an observer at the World Trade Organization and has aspirations to join as a full member. The Bahamas chose not to join the Caribbean Single Market (CSM), which took effect on 1 January 2006, mainly because of concerns over its people movement provisions.
Australia and the Bahamas have worked together on issues such as combating tax evasion, transnational crime and money laundering. Through its anti-money laundering regulator, Austrac, the Australian Government assisted the Bahamas in establishing a financial intelligence unit.
In September 2008, Australia provided A$1 million in relief to the Caribbean to help the victims of Tropical Storm Fay and Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike; A$300,000 was directed to relief efforts in Jamaica, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. Australia's assistance was provided through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for relief supplies, temporary shelter, health services and other emergency relief activities.
Bilateral economic and trade relationship
Australia has a modest trade relationship with the Bahamas. Two-way merchandise trade between Australia and the Bahamas totalled A$4.5 million in 2009-10. Australia's exports to the Bahamas in 2009-10 were valued at A$2.6 million, and primarily consisted of meat (excluding beef). Imports from the Bahamas to Australia were valued at A$1.9 million during this period and were dominated by primary styrene polymers.
For the latest economic data, refer to the Bahamas Fact Sheet [PDF 34 KB] .
The Bahamas' high levels of per capita GDP and heavy dependence on imports mean that there are significant opportunities for exporters. The geographical and cultural proximity of the United States provides a natural advantage to the Bahamas, and the US is the country's largest trading partner.
Nevertheless, opportunities for Australian exporters exist in:
Food and beverages
The Bahamas imports food both for the domestic and tourist markets. The latter, in particular, generates demand for high quality international products. Items of interest to Australian exporters may include cheese and milk products, beef and wine.
With over 700 islands there is an increasing need for airports, ports, roads and micro infrastructure construction. Major developments in tourism infrastructure are a possibility. There is also a demand for hurricane-resistant housing.
Patrol boats, fast ferries, pleasure boats, light vessels
The proximity to the United States and concerns about drug trafficking are likely to continue to generate a requirement for aluminium hulled fast vessels for border patrols and territorial integrity. The tourism sector has a requirement for light and pleasure boats. There may also be opportunities for Australian boat building companies to facilitate fast inter-island ferry services.
Freeport Free Trade Zone
The large duty free zone at Freeport on the Grand Bahamas Island and its adjacent harbour provides tax free opportunities for foreign investors. By law, the free trade zone will exist until at least 2054, and import duties and taxes on real estate will not be levied until at least August 2015. Freeport is 35 minutes from southern Florida by plane, and the closest off-shore port to the United States.
Updated November 2010