Caribbean Court upholds trade ministerial decision on cement classification

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Tuesday delivered a judgement which upholds the classification decision of the CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) on cement, known as Rock Hard Cement, imported and/or distributed within CARICOM by Rock Hard Cement (Rock Hard Distributors Limited) and, Mootilal Ramhit and Sons Contracting Limited.

These proceedings in the CCJ’s Original Jurisdiction mark the finale of complex litigation which has resulted in five separate judgements and numerous orders thus far.

Tuesday’s judgement settled the dispute as to whether Rock Hard Cement ought to be classified as ‘Building cement (grey)’ and be charged a CARICOM tax of 15% when imported into the region, or as ‘Other hydraulic cement’ in which case a levy of 0-5% would be payable. Earlier this year, COTED decided that Rock Hard Cement was to be classified as ‘Other hydraulic cement’ in line with the advice received from the World Customs Organization’s (‘WCO’) Harmonized System (‘HS’) Committee.

The State of Trinidad and Tobago, Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) and Arawak Cement Company Limited argued that COTED’s decision-making process was procedurally flawed and that COTED’s reliance on the WCO’s advice went against the economic objectives of the CARICOM tax. On this basis they contended that Rock Hard Cement should be classified as ‘Building cement (grey)’ and be subjected to the 15% tax as Rock Hard Cement was in direct competition with TCL’s regionally produced ‘Building cement (grey)’.

In its judgement, the CCJ upheld the COTED classification decision as being binding on all Member States in keeping with Article 29(1) of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC). The Court found that COTED was fully entitled to place heavy reliance upon the WCO advice, given the role of the WCO in harmonizing rules on international trade within the context of the World Trade Organization (WTO).