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Door still open on sugar cess talks - Kellier

Published:Tuesday | April 28, 2015 | 12:00 AM

While leaving the proverbial door open to continue dialogue with members of the manufacturing sector on the controversial proposed cess on imported refined sugar, Agriculture Minister Derrick Kellier has made it clear that the Government has a duty to protect the country's revenue.

Responding to assertions by Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica President William Mahhood on Radio Jamaica's Beyond the Headlines on Monday that he acted like a rogue minister, Kellier said it was a democratic country and "people free fi chat any foolishness dem want to chat".

Yesterday, head of Jamaica Customs Major Richard Reese told the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament that his agency had lost more than $100 million in revenue owing to the leakage of refined sugar into the retail trade.

Speaking with journalists at Gordon House hours later, Kellier charged that "the revenue that the Government loses is the people's money".

He said: "There is one angle about what some people have concern about, but who has concern about the revenue that is being misappropriated? Somebody must answer for that. It is not the Government that imports the sugar."

He charged that the manufacturing sector should not attempt to give the impression that the Government is trying to do something that is unreasonable.

However, the agriculture minister said that his ministry was in no hurry to introduce a tax on imported refined sugar, noting that discussions with the manufacturing sector were ongoing.

"We have set no deadlines and we have set no barriers. We'll continue the discussion with them until we reach an amicable solution," he said.

Kellier said the Government was still pursuing plans to transform and restructure the sugar industry based on recommendations contained in a Planning Institute of Jamaica Report and a report from the Alvin Wint Commission.

He stressed that while the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA) had concerns about the proposed cess, the Government had responsibility for the protection of the sector.

Kellier said he would want the talks with the JMA and other manufactures to end early so that a decision can be made going forward.

The minister said part of the leakage of the imported sugar has to be dealt with by Jamaica Customs as well as players in the manufacturing sector.

Members of the JMA have made it clear that they would resist any plans by the Government to introduce a tax on imported refined sugar.

Some large manufacturers said they are contemplating plans to pull out of Jamaica and relocate to a more competitive environment in the region.