Stakeholders in the business community, comprising various local chambers of commerce are imploring government and the Comptroller of Customs and Excise to adjust a new customs rule that has considerably lengthened the time it takes to clear goods and puts an additional cost to businessmen.
Government came in for stinging criticism from several well-known members of the business community, with representatives from companies and organisations including DHL, FedEx, EZone, Trinidad Systems Ltd and the TT Manufacturers Association, jointly hosting a media conference at the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) office in Maraval Road, Newtown, on Thursday. AmCham CEO Nirad Tewarie said the current situation was debilitating to business. “I reiterate,” he said, “far from facilitating legitimate trade, what is happening now is frustrating legitimate trade, and it must be reversed if the country which is trying to get out of a recession, is to have a chance to do so by allowing business to what business needs to do.”
The legislation requires all commercial entries to be cleared by a broker. Specifically, a customs broker must be hired to fill out the required documentation, irrespective of the value of the shipment. As such, stakeholders have asked that legislation be adjusted to allow for commercial purchases at $20,000 and below, to be cleared as a non-trade/free entry. This, the chamber says, will significantly aid the ease of doing business.
Tewarie said the chamber wrote to Minister of Finance Colm Imbert last May, expressing concern that the system was going to cause difficulties and asked for more dialogue. “When the intermittent implementation started, we then wrote to the attorney general in November, 2019, asking for a change in the legislation to legalise the $20,000 (limit).
It was then implemented in February. Tewarie said, with the backlog, the average clearance time is five days. TTMA director Dale Parson gave his take on the process, explaining, “If you bring in a sensitive part (for a machine) that is $100, what you now have to do is prepare a customs entry, which will cost you about $300 to stamp. You are only allowed 48 hours rent free space at the airport. “So, by the time you get notice that the part has arrived, 24 hours gone. By the time you prepare the customs entry, another 24 hours gone. By the time you get customs clearance, it’s another two, three days. So you’re now paying rent for a hundred-dollar part that you’re waiting on and you have 200 people sitting, waiting on this part because you can’t run the factory.
President of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) and director of Jimmy Aboud Textiles, Gregory Aboud described the rule as a “wild, mad stunt.”
He said, “I don’t think it is right for any of us as citizens…forget business people, to stand and watch a foolish policy, implemented in a stunt-like manner, that is going to create not only difficulties in the way we run our businesses (but) it is actually going to deaden the investment climate and the attitude of people towards the future of this country.
Several of those expressed added concern for people who have to await longer periods or pay exorbitant fees for medical supplies and pharmaceuticals because of the system’s bureaucracy.
Chairman of TSL, Nicholas Galt in a brief statement, said the Minister of Finance, the comptroller of customs, and the business community need to find a way to address the matter. “Yes, you have scamps in this country in all walks of life, but all of us you are seeing inside here today, and many others (in the business community) are involved in very good and legitimate businesses that actually make this country work,” Galt said.
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