Thu | Jan 21, 2021

Letter of the Day | Increase duty-free limit for travellers

Published:Thursday | October 24, 2019 | 12:00 AM


According to a March 2019 article in your newspaper, the duty-free limit for returning Jamaican (adult) travellers has been US$500 for more than two decades. Though the article did not give a specific implementation date for the limit, let us fix our periods of comparison to 1999 vs 2019, for the purposes of this proposition.

In that time, the exchange rate has moved from roughly J$40:US$1 to upwards of J$130:US$1; and whereas your readers may recall a Mother’s Patty Special of 2-for-$22 around 1998-1999, two patties now cost close to J$300. These two examples illustrate that exchange rates have changed significantly, and consumer prices have changed dramatically over the two decades in question. Yet, the duty-free allowance remains constant.

To add insult to injury, up to last year, a barrel containing food, clothing and basic household items would be assessed by Customs at a flat rate of US$150. So, a traveller could arguably clear three barrels while remaining within the duty-free limit. More recently, the flat rate for such a barrel has increased to US$250 – effectively reducing the number of barrels a traveller could clear with the allowance by one-third.

In the same article I referenced at the beginning of my letter, the CEO of the Jamaica Customs Agency indicates that increases in the limit are the remit of the Ministry of Finance. I therefore opine that to increase the flat rate without an increase in the limit was manifestly unjust, and, as such, the minister of finance ought to see to the increase in the limit as soon as possible! A new limit of US$1,000 would seem quite reasonable. I would also propose that minors be given an allowance of half this amount.

Many of the givebacks of the 2019 Budget were targeted at businesses and purchasers of real estate, with anticipated benefits to the wider society. While I am unable to quantify what a doubling of the limit will mean for the revenues from the Jamaica Customs Agency, it would represent a well-deserved giveback to the average Jamaican, many of whom rely heavily upon once-a-year trips abroad to stretch their modest incomes, for the benefit of their families and wider communities.

M. Gregory Moore