I refer to the Article posted on Thursday September 17th, 2020, in the Daily Observer entitled, “Paint retailers decry ‘unfair’ policy changes” written by Elesha George. In my review of the named Article several pertinent information were not referenced, which would have given readers the correct background and context to the newspaper Article.
As a signatory to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, Establishing the Caribbean Community including the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, the Less Developed Countries (LDCs) of CARICOM, (i.e. Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Dominica, Monserrat, Haiti, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines) are beneficiaries of Article 164 (Promotion of Industrial Development). In essence, Article 164 provides a special provision for disadvantaged countries in the context of industrial development within the LDCs. The provision is designed to promote the development of fledging industries in LDCs of CARICOM, which are allowed to suspend community origin treatment and levy higher duties on imports of identical products originating from Most Developed Countries (MDCs) of CARICOM and Third States.
In pursuit of the Government’s policy option to ignite and expand the local manufacturing sector to produce and export more goods within the region rather than being mere buyers of goods, an application for the inclusion of water base paints of tariff heading 3209, under the list of items benefitting from the application of Article 164. This application was made against the backdrop that Lee Wind Paints at the time, needed support to redevelop its business operations and model. Subsequently, the company fell into financial difficulty and a decision was taken to sell the property to Harris Paints Ltd., which filled the manufacturing void of paints.
With the regional approval through the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), to renew the list of products which includes curry powder, flour, pasta, water, aerated beverages, malt, beer, stout, animal feed, paint, candles, oxygen, acetylene, and furniture under Article 164 in 2018, the Cabinet agreed to a phased approach to its implementation.
To this end, the implementation of the duty changes to the importation of paints and water was initiated and the legislative changes were made. Accordingly, the Ministry of Trade in collaboration with the Customs and Exercise Department facilitated a consultation with manufacturers and importers of water and paint on Friday 6th, Mach, 2020, and all of the business persons with the exception of Sandy Chaia Bahir referenced in the Observer Article were present at the meeting. The consultation outlined the context of the regional decision and the Government’s approach to implementation. The meeting was also advised that a three (3) month moratorium would be given to all businesses where the duty rates would remain the same until June 30th, 2020, to accommodate imports that were already ordered and on route to Antigua. Further, given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic another extension was given, and the Statutory Instrument (No. 40 of 2020) came into effect on September 1st, 2020.
Let it be clear, the Government has not, “given the entire painting sector to one company – Harris Paint”. Through the implementation of the Article 164 the opportunity has been given to the private sector to expand their business operations while encouraging new investments in the manufacturing sector. As the Minister with responsibility for trade, my Ministry has not presided over no segmentation of the market or placed any restriction on the importation of any product(s), particularly paint, but the tariff must be strictly upheld.