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Kellier calls for commonsense approach to cess talks

Published:Saturday | May 2, 2015 | 5:00 AMChristopher Serju

AGRICULTURE MINISTER Derrick Kellier on Thursday made it clear that he would not be swayed by rash or intemperate utterances from members of the manufacturing sector when they meet to discuss the pending imposition of a cess on imported refined sugar.

Members of the private sector have been very vocal in their objections, accusing the minister of, among other things, trying to get them to literally pay for the inefficiencies of the sugar industry and have vowed to resist the new tariff. Despite the firestorm, the agriculture minister has refrained from responding to the many threats of business disruptions, telling The Gleaner the bargaining table is the place to ventilate all concerns.

"There is not really much more to say. We have, from our position at the ministry, made it quite clear that everything is on the table, and we look forward to further talks with the manufacturing sector ... and we are prepared to listen to them," he explained, following a tour of the Jamaica Broilers Group feed mills and processing plant in St Catherine.

Sugar workers come first

However, Kellier, who also straddles the labour and industrial relations portfolio, made it clear that he is not likely to entertain any discussion that would not redound to the benefit of workers in the sugar industry.

"Let's put it this way. We have a responsibility to the sugar cane industry in this country, and we have to ensure that that mandate is properly dealt with. So, we are looking forward to the discussions and to some kind of agreement that will enable us to do just that, to take care of the sugar industry," the minister declared.

Pressed for a response to the declaration by Lascelles Chin, chairman of the LASCO Group of Companies, that he would likely move operations to Trinidad and Tobago if the cess is imposed, Kellier replied: "I think those comments were made in the heat of night."

Asked about the likelihood of a roll-back of the cess, the agriculture minister pointed to the misrepresentation of the facts by those persons opposed to it.

"There is nothing to roll back (yet). Nothing was on the table in terms of figures. We did not settle on anything, so we do not have anything to roll back (as) yet. We do not yet have a figure."

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com