Express Business Filler #1

GOVERNMENT and attorneys representing St Lucia-based Rock Hard Distribution Ltd and its local distributor were locked in negotiation yesterday evening over the State’s decision to implement a quota and licensing regime on the importation of cement into this country.

The decision to hold discussions was agreed upon yesterday morning when an application by Rock Hard for injunctive relief against the Ministry of Trade and Industry came up for hearing before Justice Jacqueline Wilson.

The company is seeking to have the court restrain the ministry from capping the annual importation of cement at 75,000 tonnes as well as to impose a five per cent Common External Tariff (CET) for hydraulic cement. In addition to that, last November, Government indicated its intention to apply 50 per cent duty.

When the matter came up for hearing, senior counsel Deborah Peake, who represents the State, indicated her client was not willing to give any further undertaking since a previous undertaking that was given by the State expired yesterday.

The attorney said Rock Hard Ltd would not be affected or prejudiced in any way regarding the new policy while the company’s claim was being ventilated in court.

To bolster her argument, Peake also made reference to a notice issued by the companies that its operations would be suspended until next month.

“When Government sets policy, it does so for the entire country. We have to consider the effect on Rock Hard but we have a country to manage,” said the attorney.

There were a number of factors Government had taken into consideration in coming to the decision she said, including the country’s foreign exchange challenges.

But in response to her submissions, Senior Counsel Ian Benjamin said the policy could potentially ruin the companies.

“What we face is a quite challenging circumstance,” he stated.

Following consultation with the parties, the judge agreed to give the parties the opportunity to hold discussion and attempt to arrive at a compromise.

Justice Wilson said if no agreement was arrived upon then there would be no option but for the court to set a date for the hearing of the injunction.

If it reaches to that, the parties have also agreed to have a rolled-up hearing set for February 25, in which the Justice Wilson would decide whether Rock Hard Ltd should be granted permission to hear the case as well as the substantive issues simultaneously as opposed to separately in traditional judicial review cases.

Attorneys Jagdeo Singh and Justin Phelps also appear on behalf of Rock Hard Ltd.

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