CARIBBEAN Community (Caricom) member state, Belize, has initiated a lawsuit against Trinidad and Tobago and St Kitts and Nevis, claiming that the two countries have breached the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas by failing to apply the Common External Tariff (CET) of 40 per cent on imports of brown sugar from Guatamela and Honduras.
The CET is a single tariff rate agreed to by all members of the Caricom on imports of a product from outside the Community. Goods imported from third countries are subject to the duties listed in the CET but goods imported from Caricom countries, certified to be of Caricom origin do not generally attract these import duties. These Caricom origin goods enjoy duty-free status.
In an originating application registered by the Caribbean Court of Justice on October 2, Belize is seeking a declaration that both T&T and St Kitts/Nevis breached Article 82 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
Belize, as well, is seeking a declaration that T&T imported 3,000 metric tonnes of brown sugar from Guatemala and Honduras in 2019 in violation of Article 83 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and the revised procedures for the suspension of the CET. The Central American country claims St Kitts and Nevis imported 1,000 metric tonnes in 2019 and is seeking a similar declaration against the twin-island federation.
Belize is also seeking a declaration that the Caricom Secretariat, contrary to Article 83(8) of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, failed to continuously review the CET on brown sugar and failed to assess the lack of implementation of the CET on production and trade within the region. Belize is also seeking a declaration that Caricom failed to secure the uniform implementation throughout the Community of the CET on brown sugar.
In addition, Belize is seeking an order directing the Secretary General of the Caricom “to urgently complete the monitoring mechanism that is designed to monitor the requests for imports of sugar into the Caribbean Single Market, and to place the same before the Council for Trade and Economic Development for its consideration and approval.”
Caricom’s only Central American member, as well, wants the CCJ to order the Caricom Secretariat “to report on the adoption of the said monitoring mechanism to this Court within three months from the date hereof.”
Belize is also seeking an order that both T&T and St Kitts and Nevis pay it damages and that the two countries plus Caricom pay its costs.
Speaking in Belize last month, the country’s Agriculture Minister, Godwin Hulse, said Belize lost significant sales of its brown sugar because importers in T&T and St Kitts and Nevis purchased the commodity from outside of Caricom market, without paying the required CET.
Hulse said the country produced enough brown sugar to easily supply the region’s needs.
In an e-mail last Friday responding to reports of the action taken by Belize, Trade Minister, Paula Gopee-Scoon said: “It was brought to the attention of Government officials who were in attendance at a regional meeting that Belize has filed documents to commence legal action against the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis before the Caribbean Court of Justice.
“Belize is claiming that imports of brown sugar from Guatemala and Honduras into Trinidad and Tobago and St Kitts and Nevis have received treatment in contravention of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, through the circumvention of the Common External Tariff.
“In pursuit of its claim, Belize would be required to serve the requisite documents on the Honourable Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry is not yet in receipt of the originating application and its attachments. As such, the full details of the matter are not before us at this point. Once further details are received, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago will address the matter through the relevant channels.
“The Government of Trinidad and Tobago remains steadfast in ensuring continued compliance with the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.”
In a statement in Parliament on December 12, 2018, Prime Minister Keith Rowley said: Caricom is the major outlet for Trinidad and Tobago’s manufactured products and is responsible for maintaining thousands of associated jobs and preservation of investments within Trinidad and Tobago. Caricom is our market and we must do everything reasonable to protect its existence, its health and its growth.”
The statement from the prime minister came days after he hosted a special meeting of Caricom heads of government aimed at accelerating the implementation of the Caricom Single Market and the Economy (CSME).