The Government of Belize is suing St Kitts along with Trinidad and Tobago over sugar importation. Love News understands that the two countries have been acquiring sugar from Guatemala without paying the required taxes. According to the Minister of Food and Agriculture Godwin Hulse the lawsuit was filed earlier this month.
Godwin Hulse, Former Minister of Agriculture: “What it is is that Belize is a member of CARICOM and the CARICOM community under the treaty of Chaguaramas created a single market. What that means it that goods flow or should flow freely between the territories. If one of the territories have a particular good that another territory wants it is required to import it from that territory, if it does not and it gets it extra regional means outside of the community then for the most part it is supposed to pay what we call a CET which is a Common External Tariff. In the case of sugar Belize produces enough brown sugar to supply the needs of the community while a lot of the sugar production reduced in the community because of other issues, Jamaica reduced some of their estates went out of production, Barbados production reduced etc, Guyana was in difficulty, Belize actually increased. Belize Sugar Industries/ASR and Santander jointly produced enough sugar to sell into the Caribbean market which has the best price so to speak. There has been a lot of arguments whether in fact our white sugar qualified as refined sugar because in some cases particularly for the Trinidadian manufacturers it wasn’t pure enough it wasn’t refined enough etc. You and I will know that the quality of white sugar that you get now from Belize you can’t complain at all. In the past it had bagacillo etc but right now it’s absolutely really white and clean. You were at the last COTED meeting in Belize which I chaired- you interviewed me – and one of the issues you will remember was this very issue how do we get plantation white sugar accepted in the first instance ? But this suit is not about plantation white it’s about brown sugar which has no quarrel at all. Brown sugar should be bought in the region and what has happened is that Trinidad and St.Kitts have been buying from Honduras and Guatemala for which is outside the region without paying the 40% CET and while we’ve had many many requests at COTED and many back and forth they continue to do it and so the recourse is to go to the Caribbean Court of Justice which was set up in its original jurisdiction and that might be a big word but what that means is the reason for the court is to rule on disputes within the community, that is its first and primary function. Of course you know we have also used it as a court of appeal not all the community members have used it as a court of appeal we have but in its original jurisdiction it is to deal with community issues and disputes within the community and since we could not resolve it otherwise by discussion we’re now gone to court.”
Minister Hulse explained to our newsroom that due to the two countries going against the CARICOM regulations Belize’s sugar industry lost close to two million dollars. He also spoke on what they hope will be the outcome from the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Godwin Hulse, Former Minister of Agriculture: “BSI estimates that in 2019 they lost close to $1.8 or $1.9 million US dollars as a result of the sugar not being bought in the Caribbean region and that is significant because if you translate that that then turns into close to $3.9 million Belize dollars and so it is important. I don’t think that process is going to take long the Caribbean Court of Justice in its original jurisdiction always rules with a bit of a dispatch.”
Reporter: What are the grounds why these two countries insist on doing purchasing from Guatemala and not Belize is it a price comparison ? What is their grounds for that do you know?
Godwin Hulse, Former Minister of Agriculture: “I don’t know and I won’t speculate because that is the case before the court but the bottom line is quite simple if you buy outside the region, if it is cheaper or whatever the reason is then you pay the duty, what we call the Economic External Tariff that’s a duty it’s levied on it. Remember there’s protection by duty not quantitative restriction they can’t restrict you from purchasing it. If anybody in Belize wants to purchase a commodity that is produced in Jamaica or Trinidad or any of the other territories and you’re insisting on purchasing it then you pay the duty that’s all it is. So all we’re saying to Trinidad and St.Kitts “You want to buy sugar outside the region? Well pay the duty. Duty doesn’t come to us it goes to them but the purpose for the duty is so that we would be competitive in the exercise, we would be competitive because we know that the price of brown sugar into this countries and the quality if they were to pay the proper duty on the import from an external source it would cost them more.”
Minister Hulse says it is expected that the CCJ will move swiftly in hearing the matter and rendering a decision.