Chamber discusses Article 164 impacts on consumers with Ministry of Commerce

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Chamber discusses Article 164 impacts on consumers with Ministry of Commerce

(PRESS RELEASE) – The complexities of trade and development policy took center stage when members of the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture participated in a follow-up meeting with the Ministry of Commerce on the morning of March 4th 2020 on the issue of Article 164.

The meeting emerged out of an earlier engagement to discuss how the Government intended to treat with the issue of Import Licenses for items receiving Article 164 support as well as the implications for Article 164 items under Price Control.

The Chamber remains convinced that tariffs should replace the licenses while technical officials of the Ministry, appeared determined to retain the use of licenses. The Chamber sees the Licenses as superfluous and another administrative step that serves no purpose and is not in keeping with Government Policy to make it easier to do business and modernize the economy. Moreover, they serve only as technical barriers to trade.

The discussion led to the revelation that the Article 164 was already having some additional, unintended impacts. In particular, more goods than had been intended were being assessed with the new tariffs. This unintended situation arose for two main reasons, the first being the Ministry of Commerce had included an item that was not approved by COTED for Article 164 support and to compound the situation, the definition of that item, is extremely broad and all encompassing, thus affecting more goods than intended.

The Ministry of Commerce and Chamber Members proposed and discussed various approaches to resolving the situation. Among the proposals was the immediate amending of the Statutory Instrument to ensure that Statutory Instrument reflects the COTED decision, since as it stands St. Lucia has no legal authority to treat those goods as such; to suspend the implementation of Article 164 until COTED approves an amended List that includes the item and the item is more narrowly defined in the Statutory Instruments. There were also suggestions that other options within the Treaty of Chagaramus be explored to give the intended support to the intended products, while simultaneously removing the non- approved tariff and so providing consumers with a measure of relief.

Chamber members feel strongly that the Ministry of Commerce and Consumer Affairs need to do a better job in explaining to the public the price impact of Article 164, as there was a prevailing impression that the prices on those goods were arbitrarily being increased by merchants. Chamber members explained that their companies were not in a position to absorb in some cases 40%, 70% and even 100% new tariffs on affected items and as such increased costs have had to be passed on. The situation was compounded by the inclusion of a wide range of goods that had not been scheduled for Article 164 treatment.

The Meeting agreed to continue dialogue and both sides would document their perspective on the debated issues with the intention to provide clarity to each other and to also set up a working group to find workable solutions to the issues confronting them.

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