CARICOM to review import taxes

The 15-nation Caribbean trade bloc is undertaking a complete review of its import taxes regime into the regional free market including poultry and agriculture products from the United States in the wake of a plethora of requests from governments and the private sector to periodically suspend tariffs to correct shortages of items in various member states.

The bloc has hired an international consulting firm to “undertake a rather comprehensive look” at the common external tariff governing the importation of products not manufactured in the region.

Part of the reason for this stems for pressure from governments and the private sector for suspensions or waivers of duties to the council of trade ministers (COTED) for particular products to make up for shortfalls of materials or finished products in particular countries.

“Some of these requests for suspensions are for lengthy periods sometimes so this review will inform us how to go forward,” said regional trade chief Joseph Cox.

The study is expected to be completed by September and will be reviewed by the trade ministers grouping before being handed to leaders at their mid year summit in the first quarter of next year.

The review comes as regional governments are also casting their minds to negotiating some kind of free trade arrangement or system to govern tariffs for two way trade with Britain now that it has voted to leave the European Union (EU).

This is so because trade with an European Union of which Britain is a member would normally be governed by the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which had replaced the Lome and Cotonou conventions relating to trade and aid relations between Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) group of nations.

But once Britain leaves, there will be no system governing trade.

Carl Greenidge, a Guyanese vice president, finance minister and former head of the Caribbean regional negotiating machinery said the region needs to move fast to get a “transitional arrangement” with Britain in the coming months.

“Now that Britain is proposing to leave the EPA we have now to deal with Britain as a new arena into which we want to get products and therefore we have to see with them what may be done with the tariffs that had been abolished when Britain was in the European Union. That transition has implications for those who supply the United Kingdom with products such as sugar in Guyana, and for those who purchase United Kingdom goods which also applies to Guyana,” said Greenidge.

Britain accounts for 22 percent of Caribbean overall exports to Europe that also include rice, bananas, rum and other products.

Britain last year voted to quit the European Union of which it was a key and founding member.

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