Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
Western Bureau:The Jamaica Exporters' Association (JEA) will tomorrow meet with stakeholders from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Airports Authority of Jamaica to settle a dispute between local exporters from western Jamaica and AJAS Limited, cargo handlers at the Sangster International Airport (SIA).
The exporters are questioning the legality of a new levy of US 4¢ per kilo that has been introduced by AJAS, sole operators at the port of entry, and have called for an immediate suspension of the charges.
"We have a major concern about this increase and will be meeting with these stakeholders to see how best to resolve this crisis," Vitus Evans, president of the JEA, told The Sunday Gleaner. "If that meeting does not resolve the issue, we will then have to seek audience with the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce."
disputing the new charge
AJAS first notified its customers of the new charges in a memo dated March 22, 2012, and signed by General Manager Carole Fox, which claimed that the new charge was being passed on to its customers because of the imposition of a "throughput fee" introduced by MBJ Airports Limited, operators of SIA.
Efforts to contact Fox, who is based at the company's administrative office, in Kingston, was unsuccessful as she was said to be out of office.
Shipments belonging to companies that have failed to comply or are disputing the new charge are not being accepted, leaving them with millions of dollars in losses.
"We question the legality of the charges and further are troubled by the way we are being forced to accept; we consider your behaviour as an assault on the export sectors in western Jamaica," said a statement from the affected exporters, in a letter dated April 11, 2012.
The letter also pointed to the difficulties being experienced by the exporters, who are still in recovery mode from the much publicised rejection of some thirteen 40ft containers of yam by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They are also required, among other things, to upgrade their facilities as a pre-requirement for acceptance by USDA.
"Freight and other charges on export are highest in Jamaica and this latest addition will only make Jamaican exports even more uncompetitive in a climate of falling tropical food prices in overseas markets," said businesswoman Rita Hilton, in a letter to the managing director of Lascelles Group of Companies and copied to the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, Jamaica Exporters Association and Jamaica Manufacturers' Association.
"We understand that this charge was implemented in 2009 and that the charge was not passed on by handlers, AJAS now has a monopoly as a handler in Montego Bay and seems bent on wrecking the sector with exports dispatched from this airport," Hilton continued.