THE ISLAND'S duty-free merchants, though hard pressed to compete with their Caribbean neighbours in terms of pricing, say they were bent on continuing to offer their customers "a quality shopping experience" throughout the coming year.
"What we have to pay in terms of taxes puts us at a competitive disadvantage with the other islands," notes Kumar Sujanani, the owner of the Gem Palace chain of duty free stores in Ocho Rios, St. Ann. "When we have our competitors paying next to nothing in taxes, it's not an easy thing to compete with them in prices... it's a lot easier for them to be more flexible."
The president of the association, Kumar Samtani agreed. "A lot of merchants are under pressure because of the realities of the situation," he said. "We however have been known for our quality products and this regardless of what we are facing, will be our goal going into 2004."
Inbond merchants currently have to pay an eight per cent duty on their imported products. In addition, they also have to pay a two per cent cess a combined 10 per cent in tariffs, making their total one of the highest in the region. They are also handicapped by the fact that the cruise ships visiting Jamaica are spending a lot more time at the attractions, giving passengers very little time to shop at the shopping centres.
"It's a very rough road," explained Sanju Chatani, the owner of the Taj Mahal Plaza in Ocho Rios. "A lot of people are of the view that duty free merchants are making a lot of money and that everything is simply dandy... this is so far from the truth. Merchants have to do a lot by way of investment... have to take a lot of risk and make a lot of sacrifices. They then have to compete with the other islands for survival, something which oftentimes easier said than done."
Ravi Daswani, the owner of the Royal Shop chain of duty free stores, noted that the fact that Jamaica is consistently voted as the number one destination for duty free shopping is a testament to the perseverance of merchants, noting that "this is an achievement we are extremely proud of."