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Trinidad seeking CARICOM waiver on cement duty

Published:Monday | January 14, 2013 | 12:00 AM

The Trinidad and Tobago government says it plans to lobby the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping for a decrease in the import duties on cement after a major regional manufacturer increased the price of the commodity by nearly 10 per cent.

Trade Minister Vasant Bharath, reacting to the decision by Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) to increase the price for a bag of cement by 9.5 per cent, said he had held talks in December with the company on whether the hike was based on increased costs of inputs, or due to inefficiencies.

Bharath said that TCLs costs include an annual energy cost of US$12 million for natural gas, a debt of TT$1.9 billion, increased costs of labour and importing parts from Europe.

That has resulted in a bag of cement moving from TT$52.50 to $57.50, Bharath said. He added that what TCL is requesting is a waiver from the National Gas Company of their escalation clause for the next eight years.

In addition, they are ... requesting to be re-classified as what is called a middle user which will entitle them to a lower gas-price than they currently enjoy.

Bharath said he would seek CARICOM assistance to reduce the 15 per cent duty on cement imports, adding that no CARICOM country can afford for its citizens to be burdened by any organisation that is inefficiently run.

He said because Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica are engaged in cement production, any country wanting to waive import duty must first get approval from the regional grouping.

I intend to go back to the CARICOM through COTED (Council of Trade and Economic Development) to look at the possibility of some form of relief of the 15 per cent duties on cement that comes in ex-CARICOM, he said.

There is precedent for this as in 2006, the then government went to COTED and had a removal of duties on cement for a period of time. So there is precedent for it, Bharath added.

If approved, the move would cut duty from cement imported from places outside CARICOM such as the Dominican Republic.

So the intention really is to allow free-market forces, for a specific period of time possibly, Bharath said, adding so the price of cement coming in from outside of CARICOM would no longer attract the 15 per cent duty.

It would then be up to individuals to decide whether they wished to buy from TCL, or buy imported cement, he added.