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Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, Clement Rohee speaking at a news conference last Monday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the COTED meeting agreed to remove several trade barriers and discriminatory practices which were adversely affecting Guyana's goods accessing markets within CARICOM, accusing several territories of "cheating."
One of Guyana's major contentions was that the private sector should have a greater role at COTED meetings, because it is they who are directly involved in trade, and not governments.
This proposal was accepted by COTED and a decision taken to establish a nine-member committee comprising representatives from Guyana, Jamaica, Dominica, Caribbean Export, the Caribbean Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) and the CARICOM Secretariat. Its task is to work towards specific actions and strategies to eliminate non-tariff barriers against intra-regional transactions.
Rohee said that Guyana's position emanated from the Caribbean Transnational Conference which was held in April last year in Montego Bay, Jamaica which called for inter-alia advancing the deadline for the implementation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME). The second meeting of the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on the CSME, in St. Lucia in August last year endorsed most of the recommendations from the Transnational Conference, two of which pertained to the involvement of the private sector at COTED meetings and the removal of non-tariff barriers to intra-regional trade, he added.
"One of the key decisions that was adopted at that meeting (14th COTED) had to do with the removal of barriers to trade among member States within the Caribbean. Since governments have very little to trade among themselves, other than paper and words and statements, and since it is an area where the private sector has a major stake, barriers to trade affect the private sector companies in the region. It was agreed that a committee would be established to examine where these barriers exist, why they exist and what should be done to remove them. Now, key to this is how we involve the private sector in those deliberations, and we took a decision to implement a decision by heads to involve the regional private sector in a much more amplified way at COTED meetings," Rohee reported.
The minister noted too that COTED agreed with Guyana's position of implementing Common External Tariffs (CET) of 100% on imported chicken parts from outside the region.
Guyana contended that the poultry industry is of strategic importance to its economy, being responsible for the direct employment of 5,000 persons and generates about US$23.3M annually. The local industry has been under severe pressure from extra-regional imports which are heavily subsidised.
Trinidad and Tobago (T & T) has accepted the commitment of the sugar company, CARONI to import raw sugar from Belize and Guyana for refining, but stated its need to provide for situations in which CARONI Refinery could be shut down at short notice due to industrial action, Rohee said.
T & T had requested approval from COTED for a Certificate under the Safeguard Mechanism for refined sugar to be imported from extra-regional sources to allow products which utilise imported sugar to qualify for Area origin Treatment, when exported to CARICOM countries, because of industrial instability.
Guyana strongly objected to the request pointing out that along with Belize they have the capacity to supply the 21,000 tonnes of bulk sugar from the region for refining T & T has requested.
According to the terms of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, a member State cannot import a commodity from extra-regional sources, once it is available from within the region at competitive prices.
"There is no way we could have agreed to allow any member State to bring in sugar from outside the region, knowing that we have the capacity to supply, " Rohee declared.
However, he explained that Guyana agreed for the Certificate under the Safeguard Mechanism to be considered on a case by case condition, and instead of the 14 days with which to reply it was agreed that it should be reduced to three days.
With respect to logs imported from Suriname, Guyanese importers have been faced with a 20% duty from that country, and COTED upheld Guyana's contention that it was a violation of trading agreements existing within CARICOM. Consequently, Suriname agreed to remove the duty from all CARICOM countries by March this year.
Export duties between CARICOM countries are prohibited under Article 88 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
Another success for Guyana was the decision by St. Lucia to remove a discriminatory import tax of Guyana's exports of rum to that country.
On this score Rohee observed that it is a good example of collaboration between government and the private sector, noting that it was the local beverage giant, Demerara Distilleries Ltd (DDL) which had complained about the unfair tax by St. Lucia which made the government aware of the discriminatory practice. Consequently, the matter was raised at COTED.
He urged that such collaboration be sustained, because if the government is unaware of these trade barriers then it would not be able to make representations on behalf of companies.
The imposition of the tax contravened the provisions of Article 87 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.