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Belize Sets Precedence in Lawsuit Against CARICOM

With that settlement in place the lawsuit against Trinidad and Tobago and the Caricom Secretariat remains before the courts.  Love News understands that Trinidad has not expressed interest in an out of court settlement, but rather they have asked the CCJ for an extension for a defence.  Minister Courtenay explained what the outcome is that they seek via the Caribbean Court.

Hon. Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration

Hon. Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration: “The case continues against Trinidad which asked for a second extension of time to file a defense. The court has given them until the 12th of February to file their defense and essentially our allegation against Trinidad and Tobago is the same thing, that they have been importing brown sugar from outside the region and not imposing the Common External Tariff and the remedies that we seek are the same :for them to disclose how much sugar they have brought it, prove that they have imposed the tariff and thirdly we want to ensure that Belize has an opportunity to export brown sugar to Trinidad and Tobago. In the case of CARICOM the position is slightly different. We believe that the CARICOM community has not discharged it’s duty under the revised treaty of Chaguaramas; it falls to the CARICOM Secretariat and Secretary General in particular to ensure that the Common External Tariff is imposed where it should be imposed. Belize has, along with Guyana and the Sugar Association of the Caribbean been complaining for quite some time to COTED and to CARICOM secretariat that this sugar has been coming in without the duty being paid on it and we have raised it in COTED, we have raised it bilaterally, we have raised it by letters which former Minister Panton wrote letters complaining and nothing happened or nothing to our satisfaction there’s been a lot of talk and there have been meetings etc. What we proposed is what is called a monitoring mechanism which is all users of sugar whether it be white sugar, plantation white, or brown sugar who import sugar into the Caribbean Single Market and Economy must full out a form explaining where they get that sugar from, how much sugar they’re bringing in, what’s the quantity, the duty that’s paid on it and most importantly what is it going to be used for. So that within the region we’re monitoring the amount of sugar that’s being brought in and who is using it etc. That data is important to ensure that no business or no country seeks to displace sugar that Belize produces or Guynaa produces, or Barbados produces that we can export to Trinidad or we can export to Jamaica or we can export to St.Kitts. We have a common market because we believe that products produced within the market should be sold within the market and when you bring from outside you must pay a duty and we are monitoring how much sugar you are bringing in. So for example if traditionally you look at history and you see a company bringing in let’s say five hundred or a thousand metric tonnes per year all of a sudden they make a request that they want to bring in ten thousand metric tonnes, if they have not expanded their factory you know that there’s an issue that needs investigation and so the monitoring mechanism will require them to disclose that information which will immediately send up a red flag to us so that we can say to the CARICOM Secretariat you have the responsibility to go and investigate why it is that this company that has been importing five hundred metric tonnes for three years or four years all of a sudden wants ten thousand. So it’s important that type of information helps our producers also to plan because if they can see the amount that is coming in from outside they realize listen we can produce more and sell more so it is in our view critical that we have a monitoring mechanism and that the CARICOM Secretariat ensures that that monitoring mechanism works. And so the case against the Secretariat is that they have not done enough in terms of regulating the market and that we’re asking the court to order the creation or the enforcement of the monitoring mechanism so that we can monitor the sugar that is coming into the region.”

In our last interview we had with the previous Minister of Agriculture in October our newsroom had learnt that there was some reservations in the past to pursue the lawsuit against Caricom Secretariat.  It was eventually done, however, and according to Minister Courtenay precedence has been set by Belize.

Hon. Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration:This is the first one in the Caribbean Court of Justice. In fact I can tell you that there was a lot of hesitation from the officials and the previous administration about filing this case but I think the settlement with St.Kitts shows that there was a legal basis and a justification and this is how the treaty is meant to work. If you cannot get what your producers want through negotiations and discussions then we have to use the court.”

Reporter: Has the Secretary General from CARICOM made any attempt to follow suit like St.Kitts and Nevis in terms of settling out of court ?

Hon. Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration: No they have filed their defence and so unless we are able to have discussions with them it will go to trial.”

Up to October last year, Belize had lost close to two million dollars in the sugar sector due to this situation.