The private sector in Trinidad and Tobago and other businesses are up in arms over a new rule implemented at the Customs and Excise Division that increases the cost of some goods imported into the Caribbean republic.
The new regulation, which was introduced in mid-February, requires courier companies such as FEDEX, eZone, DHL, UPS and Web Source to declare items valued less than $20,000 to Customs. The legislation requires all commercial entries to be cleared by a broker.
Specifically, a customs broker must be hired to fill out the required documentation, irrespective of the value of the shipment. As such, stakeholders have asked that legislation be adjusted to allow for commercial purchases at $20,000 and below, to be cleared as a non-trade/free entry.
“I don’t think it is right for any citizen or business owner to stand and watch a foolish policy be implemented in a stunt-like manner that is going to create difficulty in the way businesses are run.”– Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association representative, Dale Parson
This, the chamber says, will significantly aid the ease of doing business. Since the regulation came into effect, all items must now be bonded, which means that a process which took one day to complete can now take up to six days.
Also, if a customer brings in a piece of machinery that cost $100, a customs entry will now have to be prepared and which could cost $300 to stamp. The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago (AMCHAM TT) is among the most vocal private sector grouping against the new rule
Its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Nirad Tewarie, speaking at a news conference at the chamber’s headquarters on Maraval Road in Port of Spain, yesterday said the new system is not working and it is extremely debilitating to business. Tewarie said he wrote to the Finance Minister last week requesting a meeting on the issue and to date he has had no response.
However, the Comptroller at the Customs and Excise Division, Kathy-Ann Matthews has agreed to meet with AMCHAM next week Tuesday. The Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) President, Gregory Aboud, who attended yesterday’s news conference, described the Customs measure as a “wild, mad stunt” as this was done with absolutely no consultation.
He said the measure is now causing a road block for the business community. Aboud added that this action being displayed by the Government is hurting the economy and it will have severe implications for productivity.
According to Abound, “I don’t think it is right for any citizen or business owner to stand and watch a foolish policy be implemented in a stunt-like manner that is going to create difficulty in the way businesses are run. It is also going to deaden the investment climate in the country. We must speak out against nonsense.”
Also expressing frustration on the issue was a representative from the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association (TTMA), Dale Parson, who said that the measure will also have a negative impact on the medical industry as patients now have to wait much longer for life and death drugs that is now taking up to six days to be cleared from the bond.
Parson argued ,”That tax that the Government is trying to save on an item that only cost $100 is now costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars in days of loss production. The new system was supposed to be a new ease of doing business but it’s a regression.”
He said the measure not only takes more time, but it requires more paper work which means engaging a broker at increased cost. DHL’s EXPRESS Country Manager, Andrea Davis said the situation is grim.
“Just yesterday we had a customer that brought in a sample that needed to go to a lab for testing but it is stuck in the bond right now. The sample is time sensitive and probably will go bad and that is stuck in the bond right now,” Davis said.
Contacted for comment on the issue, Comptroller at the Customs and Excise Division, Kathy-Ann Matthews, said she is not authorised to speak to the media. A WhatsApp message was sent to Finance Minister, Colm Imbert to respond on whether he will meet with the private sector groups to discuss the way forward but there was no reply up to press time.
In the meantime, stakeholders in the business community, comprising various local chambers of commerce are imploring government and the Comptroller of Customs and Excise to adjust a new customs rule that has considerably lengthened the time it takes to clear goods and puts an additional cost to businessmen.