SHAME! - Cane products boss threatens to name manufacturers illegally retailing imported refined sugar
Karl James, general manager of Jamaica Cane Products Sales Limited, has warned that he will name and shame some of the manufacturers guilty of abusing their import licences for refined (granulated) sugar.
These manufacturers have been importing refined sugar for their businesses but have been retailing the product, undermining the local raw (brown) sugar industry, while robbing the Government of revenue.
"You going to hear names eventually," James told The Sunday Gleaner last week as he responded to queries about the failure to implicate any of the guilty importers, despite the long-standing claim by sugar industry stakeholders that there has been wide-scale abuse of the system for years.
According to James, a government policy that rewarded unscrupulous importers of refined sugar was the trigger for a corrupt practice which has since led to a thriving trade.
BEATING THE SYSTEM
"This (illegal) business has been going since little after 1996 when the government said, 'bring in refined sugar' since you not refining anymore, and every regime that they put in, the guys find a way to beat the system," said James, as he noted that a number of measures have been implemented for persons to import sugar for use in manufacturing of drinks, pastry products and the like as input material.
"What happened is that it came in duty-free but some of the guys started blending the [refined] sugar into the retail trade. Now you go into the trade and you will see this sugar mainly about the same price as brown sugar, whereas if they bring it in, although the price on the world market may be cheaper than local brown sugar, by the time you add the duty of 129 per cent the price should be way above, but you can find sugar on the marketplace here that is below my price," declared James, as he charged that illegal refined sugar is on the shelves and in stores across the island.
"How do I know? You'll find it in the tie-up bag, no brand - just sugar. So we know it is happening. We have no question in our mind that it has been happening, and that because the Customs and others have been a little more active, less of it is happening but I still see evidence of it," insisted James.
But Metry Seaga, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA), expressed reservations about the validity of these claims, pointing to the lack of supporting evidence.
According to Seaga, the JMA is committed to taking action where proof is provided.
"What we have asked at the JMA is to advise us if any of our members are partaking in it so that we can strike them from our register. We have been told that Customs is dealing with the issue. So when they deal with it and they bring the name, I would be happy to take whatever actions we can take at the JMA.
"For a long time, for years it's the same old cry, but what is concerning to me is that it is very easily fixable. It is not difficult to prosecute people.
"All of us walk into supermarkets. All of us walk into places that sell sugar. The Government simple needs to do an audit and identify who is doing it, if it is being done, and prosecute accordingly. So to keep using it as a red herring is quite silly. We need to get past that now," added James.
He said the loophole can be plugged with the implementation of packaging/
labelling standards so that retail sugar, like other commodities, would have specifics about the weight, ingredients and other important information, including a nutrition panel.
"So if the standards are put in place, and second, and probably more important, if the duty, the onerous duty that is placed on sugar being imported into Jamaica is removed, it will take away the need for a black market. We have a 80 per cent duty on imported sugar protecting nothing.
"There is absolutely nothing that it is protecting because there is nowhere in Jamaica, or in the Caribbean for that matter, that refines sugar. So if you allow the manufacturers to import the sugar and you have Sugar Authority being the sole importer of refined sugar - properly bagged, properly labelled, properly marked, then the problem will go away."