Trade Board, Auto Channel mending fences
... After lawyers challenge legality of Motor Vehicle Import Policy
Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter
On November 10, lawyers representing Auto Channel Limited accused the Trade Board Limited of acting outside the law when it denied recertification of the used-car dealer under the Motor Vehicle Import Policy.
"A motor vehicle policy is not law," wrote Stuart Stimpson of Hart Muirhead Fatta Attorneys-at-Law. Nor can the portfolio minister delegate his authority to regulate vehicle imports to a statutory body. That agency, "based on our best advice", can only advise him, said Stimpson.
The minister's authority resides under Section 8 of the Trade Act and only that instrument, he wrote.
That letter to Trade Administrator Victor Cummings was written two weeks after the Trade Board wrote to Auto Channel denying the company recertification as a used-car dealer and close to three weeks after Jamaica Customs Agency refused to clear eight vehicles imported by the car dealer, for which it had permits, on the directive of the Trade Board.
The correspondence appears to have had the effect of clarifying positions.
On Wednesday, November 20, both Cummings and Auto Channel's owner Lynvalle Hamilton told Sunday Business that they were moving to mend fences, following a meeting with the parties earlier that day.
"We are working it out," said Cummings, but held back on the substance of the talks.
Auto Channel became the first casualty of the revised consumer-friendly Motor Vehicle Import Policy on October 24 when the Trade Board opted not to renew its permit to import. The trade agency previously told Sunday Business that Auto Channel had breached Section 9.1 of the policy, which deals with consumer protection, trade laws, and fit and proper tests for dealers.
Auto Channel's lawyers challenged the action, saying it was "arbitrary and discriminatory" and based on allegations that have not been legally proven.
"We are trying to resolve it. That's all that I can say," said Cummings who is also CEO of the Trade Board.
"Minister Hylton convened a meeting with all the parties and discussions are moving forward and the issue should be resolved soon."
Cummings has not commented publicly on which aspect of Section 9.1 Auto Channel had breached. However, other information seems to rule out consumer protection breaches.
A November 5, 2014, letter from the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) to Hamilton, obtained by Sunday Business, says: "As per the complaint records at the CAC, Auto Channel Ltd has not, to date, been cited with any breach of the Consumer Protection Act."
The Fair Trading Commission, which has been probing the used-car trade for more than a year, did not respond to a request for comment. However, the Auto Channel head says he knows of no breaches of laws overseen by either CAC or the FTC.
Hamilton, who is also the president of the Jamaica Used- Car Dealers Association (JUCDA), says he anticipates an amicable resolution to the impasse with the Trade Board.
"The minister gave me his word that it will be sorted out. Based on the minister's comments I am a little optimistic that it will be sorted out and we will move on amicably," he said.
Hamilton said Customs' refusal to clear his vehicles in late October led to him having to refund deposits to purchasers even as he incurred other charges for storage of the vehicles at the wharf, but he said the impact on his company was contained because of customer loyalty.
"There are those who believed in us and decided to wait because they knew of the reputation of the company before and they just believed that it would have been sorted out. So nothing great of an impact, I would say," he said.
His lawyers had demanded an offer of settlement from the Trade Board, but on Wednesday, Hamilton said there was now a concerted effort by all the parties to "make bygones be bygones".
"Based on the minister's comments, I believe that we will be recertified very soon," he said.