Trinidad, others must play by the rules
Below are excerpts from a statement to Parliament by Anthony Hylton, minister of industry, investments and commerce, delivered on Tuesday, October 28.
After two years of verification and investigation into the production of lubricating oils from Trinidad and Tobago, I am pleased to announce that the process has come to an end. Indeed, the CARICOM Secretariat has submitted a final report titled CARICOM 'On-The-Spot' Investigation: Lubricant Oils in Trinidad, based on their investigation into this matter. The report has confirmed that of the nine products queried by Jamaica, four products met the rele-vant CARICOM rules-of-origin requirements, with five lubricant products being found in breach.
The matter was first brought to the attention of the Trade Enforcement Advisory Mecha-nism (TEAM), located in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, following a formal complaint by an importer in 2012. TEAM is a working group of senior trade officers across the Government of Jamaica that I established shortly after assuming office.
The formation of TEAM was not only a move towards joined-up governance, but it is guided by the commitment of the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce to a timely, appropriate and coordinated approach to trade-enforcement issues. It seeks to ensure a balance of benefits and burdens in the implementation of trade agreements with our regional and international trading partners.
In September 2012, Jamaica Customs initiated a query verification procedure in accordance with CARICOM rules regarding the lubricating oil complaint. Up to 2014, the information was not provided from Trinidad and Tobago. Our minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, A.J. Nicholson, then sought the intervention of the CARICOM Secretariat and the information was obtained in early 2014.
Although the information provided was taken in good faith, there remained some doubt regarding the rigour of the verification done by the customs authorities in Trinidad and Tobago. A decision was taken for Jamaica to do an on-the-spot investigation to review the production processes, books and accounts of the three exporters.
We wish to commend the private sector here in Jamaica and in Trinidad for their cooperation throughout the investigative process.
As a follow-up to the findings of the report, I wish to advise that:
Products that have failed to comply with the rules of origin will not receive a refund of customs duties deposited and the companies that imported these products may be subject to an audit to recover the duties that should have been applied to previous import shipments.
The products that have been deemed to comply with the rules of origin will be eligible for a refund of deposits made during the period of the verification query.
What this process has taught us is that the existing CARICOM verification procedures require further amendment. This verification query by Jamaica is the first since revised verification procedures were agreed by the Council of Trade and Economic Development (COTED) in 2003. This current investigation has pointed to the need for further amendments to ensure clarity regarding the treatment of import duties where there is a non-response by an exporting member state.
I am pleased to advise that based on a request from Jamaica, the review of the verification procedure has already commenced within CARICOM through the CARICOM Customs Committee, with the Jamaica Customs Agency playing the key role for Jamaica in the revision process.
The process was too lengthy and must be streamlined for greater efficiency and certainty to ensure minimal dislocation to the regional trading community.
Let me be clear. Jamaica can no longer afford to absorb the burdens of our trade agreements and not enjoy the benefits of these agreements. Among the benefits is the expansion of investments in our domestic market once investors are assured of a level playing field. It is noteworthy that since the beginning of the investigation, a major foreign investor is investing in a lubricating plant in Jamaica.
We at the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce pledge to protect investments to our country, not just by ensuring the integrity of imported products under preferential schemes, but by continuing to enforce our trade rules to ensure a level playing field for local producers.
Indeed, the fundamental lesson to be drawn from this exercise is that a legal framework already exists within CARICOM to ensure that our national interests are protected. However, these rules will remain as lifeless provisions unless we take bold and assertive actions to bring them to life and test their efficacy.
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