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March 6, 1998

Sir Orville Turnquest, the Governor General of the Bahamas, has urged small states to keep fully abreast of the expected hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and how it may impact tourism development. They must "make their voices and their views and their concerns known."

"What exactly will be the impact of regional free trade on those states looking to tourism for sustainable development?" asked the Governor General, while delivering the keynote address to today's luncheon guests who packed the session of the Conference of the Americas in Washington. The conference, which started Thursday, was put on by the Organization of American States (OAS). Part of the organization's 50th anniversary celebrations, the conference is discussing important issues about the future of the hemisphere's nations.

The Bahamian Governor General also challenged the small states of the Caribbean to "place determined emphasis on sustainable tourism," urging them to do so by becoming part of the lucrative and salutary worldwide tourism industry. "Small nations with marketable assets must exercise bold visionary initiatives and make some stern decisions on cashing in on what they have."

Sir Orville cited statistics showing that in 1996 Caribbean travel and tourism generated some US$25 billion. And the sector holds a promising outlook: in eight years the industry is expected to add 130 million jobs worldwide.

He held up tourism in the Bahamas as a shining example. "The Commonwealth of the Bahamas is today sitting comfortably and confidently as we await an increasingly bright future for our citizens," he declared.

He said the success had required of his country of over 700 islands and just under 300,000 people serious effort in "careful and systematic monitoring of the tourism product....We have jealously guarded our environment and ecosystem, we have trained and continue to re-train our people as the product's most outstanding feature." The Governor General, a former attorney general and minister of justice, noted too that staying abreast of new industry trends was part of the formula that made for the success of the Bahamas' tourism.

And that success also featured in examples the Governor General used to show how his country's approach had served as a model for others, saying Jamaica had introduced a program of its own, patterned from "Bahamahost which his country established 20 years ago for tourism training.

Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Ambassador Christopher R. Thomas, introduced the Governor General to the guests, who included Secretary General Cesar Gaviria, Permanent Council Chairman Ambassador Albert R. Ramdin, permanent Representative of Suriname, Ambassador Sir Arlington Butler, Permanent Representative of the Bahamas.

The luncheon was followed by a panel discussion on the future of democracy in the hemisphere that will involved former Chilean president, Patricio Aylwin, former Peruvian, former prime minister Claudette Werleigh of Haiti, former Peruvian foreign minister Francisco Tudela, and former OAS secretary general, the Brazilian Joao Clemente Baena Soares.

Canada's foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy, will give the keynote address at a later session before the conference is formally brought to a close.

Over the two days, the Conference of the Americas has brought together numerous top political leaders and other prominent personalities from all the nations of the hemisphere, to talk about the burning issues on the hemispheric agenda. The major topics were the war on poverty, education, human rights, and democracy, trad and globalization, and sustainable development.

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