Gov’t mum on application for cement tariff waiver

Government officials have been mum for the last two days on the fate of an application by Guyana for a waiver of the Common External Tariff (CET) on cement amid reports that there was resistance to this from Barbados and Trinidad at a key meeting in Bridgetown last week.

The disallowing of the application or delay in its consideration can  have repercussions for Guyana as the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) had ordered it to reinstate the CET within 28 days from August 20 when it passed judgment on a case brought against Georgetown by Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) and its Guyana subsidiary TGI. That period has now passed and TCL and TGI have since approached the CCJ for Guyana to be held in contempt of the court ruling.

Guyana’s application for the waiver was to be piloted at the Caricom Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) meeting in Barbados on Thursday by Foreign Affairs Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett.

However when contacted yesterday the minister told the Sunday Stabroek that she was not there for the entire meeting since she had to go to New York to meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

However she said she was present at the Barbados forum when the issue was discussed in general along with the improvement of practices related to approving suspensions of the CET. She said Guyana would have to abide by the new practices but said she could not comment further since she would have to be briefed by representatives who stayed on for the remainder of the meeting.

Guyana had unilaterally suspended the CET on cement in October 2006 without making the necessary application to COTED and sources say this was likely to work against its present application for a waiver.

The TCL Group in a release last week had said that the Guyana Government’s failure to abide by and implement the ruling of the CCJ was “a flagrant departure from the rule of law.”

On August 20 this year the CCJ had ruled that the Government of Guyana was in breach of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas  (RTC) by failing to apply the CET on cement and therefore ordered that within 28 days from that date, Guyana implement and thereafter maintain the CET in respect of cement from non-CARICOM sources.

TCL and TGI had accused the Guyana government of breaching the RTC by unilaterally suspending the CET on cement imported from countries outside of CARICOM and were later granted leave to sue the government after approaching the CCJ.

The court in its ruling on August 20, 2009  held the view that TCL and TGI are entitled to the benefit of having the CET maintained. But the CCJ judges declined the claim by both companies for consequential loss of income and profits, ruling that there was no substantial evidence to support it. However, Guyana was ordered to pay two-thirds of the claimants’ court costs.

TCL owns 80% of the Guyana-based TGI which imports cement in bulk from TCL and Arawak Cement Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of TCL Inc. in Barbados.

Attorney General Charles Ramson  had said that Guyana would reinstate the CET on cement as ordered by the CCJ,  but he likened the court’s coercive order to “an act of sovereignty” saying that it borders on the kind of action that only nation states take against other nation states.

It was later announced that Guyana was now formally seeking a waiver of the tariff from COTED.

A separate case had been brought by TCL against Caricom over its suspension of the tariff on cement following applications to COTED.

In its ruling in this case on August 10 – which preceded the one against Guyana – the CCJ dismissed the TCL claim but said that Caricom Secretary General Edwin Carrington had erred in the manner in which he set about establishing whether a suspension was merited.

The CCJ then set out criteria for the secretary general to follow in future deliberations.

Carrington referred to this in his address to the COTED meeting in Barbados on Thursday. According to the Caricom Secretariat, he said:

“…you have certain guidance from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The Court, in delivering its judgment on 10th August in the case of Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) versus the Caribbean Community, while finding no illegality regarding the processes, nevertheless pointed to certain aspects of the established practice in approving suspensions of the Common External Tariff (CET) by the COTED and the Secretary-General, which must be improved. In direct response to the views set out in the judgment, certain proposals are before you.

“Indeed, that judgment signalled the need for this Council and possibly all the Community’s Councils, to take a new look at their current operational procedures. We are therefore in somewhat of a new era given the legal implications for actions and decisions taken by our Councils – and even by the Secretary-General.  In a society which subscribes to the rule of law, this is as it should be.”

Observers said the criteria set out by the CCJ could have also worked against any granting of Guyana’s application for a waiver as a series of procedures would have to be undertaken.

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