Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
Private-sector interests in western Jamaica are now worried that the increased levy on imported goods, which was recently announced by the Government, could cripple many businesses in the region as unlike their colleagues in Kingston, they are being saddled with an extra transhipment cost.
"The increased Customs fees and documentation charges outlined in the new tax measures as they stand will severely impact the cost of goods imported into Montego Bay," said Mark Hart, chairman of Caribbean Producers Jamaica (CPJ) Limited.
According to Hart, Montego Bay-bound containers are more costly by virtue of the additional freight charge to transfer cargo from Kingston. He said that it was further compounded by the new documentation charges, which, he said, put western businesses in a bad position.
"Most cargo imported into Montego Bay services the hotel sector," said Hart. "While we understand the need for raising revenue, the hotel industry and the western communities should not be subjected to a disproportionate share of the new tax package.
"Based on the new rules being proposed, all imports that have a final destination in Montego Bay … must complete two to three C26 forms at the new rates. That is in addition to the other fees that are being introduced.
"These new rates counter the promotion of Jamaica as a place to do business," said Davon Crump, president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "As things are, we could see a number of our members closing their doors … . What is happening is discriminating against businesses in this region.
"We do not believe that the relevant persons that are implementing these changes understand the implications for Montego Bay cargo," continued Crump. "Based on the proposed rules, our members will have to do two C26 forms at $20,000 each. That is $40,000 per container, plus all the other fees that are mandatory."
Businessman Gassan Azan, owner of the MegaMart Wholesale Club and Bashco retail stores, believes the new measures will significantly affect both businesses and consumers and is predicting tough times.
"Our consumers are faced with the challenge of spending more to get the same things," Azan said. "If the Government follows through on its plans, these costs will have to be passed on."
The new rates are part of the Government's attempt to streamline revenue collection across the board by replacing the Customs user fee with a Customs administration fee.