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Closing toxic loophole would be too expensive - Hylton

Published:Wednesday | May 9, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Marcella Scarlett, Business Reporter

Portfolio minister Anthony Hylton acknowledges that Jamaica has no way of stopping contaminated vehicles or other goods from entering through the ports, but says he sees little need to spend money on expensive systems to plug the loophole.

The issue, he said, is not urgent because there is no evidence of radioactive imports or consumer complaints to warrant action.

But Hylton, the minister of industry, investment and commerce, also said he would explore the possibility of outfitting transport inspectors with Geiger counters.

"The evidence does not warrant more than a prophylactic approach, because we acknowledge that there could be, but we do not have any evidence that there is. It is just that there is a mere possibility that it could," he said.

"I can't think that the appropriate measure is to quarantine all goods from Japan. That would be an overreaction. But we perhaps can do some random checking. If the government were to go and invest in big expensive radioactive machines it would be a disproportionate response," the minister told Wednesday Business.

Possible radiation exposure

Immediately after the tsunami in Japan in 2011, concerns were raised inside Jamaica's foreign ministry about vehicle and other imports shipped from Japan, Hylton said.

He said these concerns were communicated to the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce and it was recommended then that measures be put in place to deal with the possibility of goods exposed to radiation entering Jamaica.

However, no specific measure was implemented.

The issue was raised with the minister after The Gleaner detected the promotion of contaminated cars for sale on Japanese auto websites often trafficked by Jamaican dealers.

Hylton said he does not think a specific regime is needed to "scrutinise beyond the normal" the vehicles coming out of Japan.

Indeed, the minister was wary of overreaction, saying he neither wanted to "spook" consumers nor give the Japanese the impression that their exports would face discrimination.

"... The only thing I am about to consider is that we have a general awareness - not only about used-car dealers but all imports from Japan - but we don't want the Japanese people and government to think that we are singling them out and their products unnecessarily," said Hylton.

"We can appreciate that this is not a top priority item on the agenda ... . there is nothing suggesting that it is an urgent matter or even a matter that even consumers seem to have been concerned about," he said.

The minister suggested, but did not commit to the use of Geiger counters to check for heightened levels of radiation. However, he is willing to consider only random checks by the All Island Traffic Authority.

As it relates to water-damaged vehicles, the minister said that there are adequate legal safeguards in place under regulations dealing with damaged vehicles.