Let foreign lawyers in, says Bahamas minister
Nassau, Bahamas — In a move he acknowledged was likely to ruffle feathers, Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder said on Wednesday it is time to allow select foreign law firms to operate within The Bahamas’ financial services industry.
Speaking at the 2014 Nassau Conference, Pinder argued that opening the doors to internationally diverse law firms in The Bahamas would further stimulate the country’s financial services sector by attracting foreign business from regional competitors with somewhat more relaxed foreign work policies.
“I propose that it is time we consider allowing foreign law firms with the necessary expertise to enter and operate from within The Bahamas in the financial services industry.
“We can do it in a fashion where entrepreneurial opportunities and knowledge transfer is extended to Bahamian attorneys,” said Pinder.
He suggested that allowing foreign law firms to practice in The Bahamas would enhance the country’s human capital and lead to further opportunities for Bahamian entrepreneurs.
“Not only will this allow us to meet the demands of industry, transfer knowledge in expertise areas to Bahamian practitioners and further entrepreneurial opportunities in partnership with select foreign law firms, it will immediately result in an increase in business for the industry as a whole,” the minister said.
Pinder has previously suggested on multiple occasions that The Bahamas has the requisite human capital to meet the country’s growing needs for compliance and additional financial services.
Pinder singled out the British Virgin Islands (BVI) as a jurisdiction that The Bahamas could emulate, stating that international law firms’ ability to refer business between regional branches is the main factor behind the BVI’s prominence.
“In Asia, the British Virgin Islands is the number one financial center. This isn’t because there is anything unique about the BVI. In fact, I put forward that The Bahamas has more diverse offerings in both products and services,” stated Pinder.
The announcement is likely to be met with resistance from the Bahamas Bar Association (BBA), which has defended the country’s protectionist work policies.
However, members of the BBA earlier this year called for balance in the government’s approach, warning that both “xenophobic” and “open sesame” policies regarding foreign lawyers are detrimental to The Bahamas.
Pinder acknowledged the challenges such a proposal would face, but stressed that the initiative is required to develop the sector.
“This policy shift will only come about through engagement with the legal professionals, especially in this new transparent world where new expertise is required and new business can be developed.
“This engagement is not going to be easy, not going to be straightforward, but it is professional level engagement that is required for growth. We can all come out ahead with a properly structured professional services network worldwide that supports growth and entrepreneurism to Bahamian practitioners,” he said.