Tax on G sugar! - Shaw blames manufacturers for growing woes in the industry; threatens to revoke duty-free importation
Unscrupulous manufacturers working in tandem with corrupt customs officials and brokers are largely to blame for the dismal state of Jamaica's sugar industry, a situation Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw warned he is moving to address.
"One of the things that are militating against the success of the industry right now is the illegal importation of sugar. Some years ago, the decision was taken to give manufacturers duty-free entry of sugar into the country for the manufacturing process. I am now satisfied that there is more than anecdotal evidence that white (processed or granulated) sugar that is being brought in for the manufacturing sector on an increasing basis is finding its way into the domestic market. Not
by way of the manufacturing processes, but directly finding its way on to supermarket shelves and corner shop sellers across this country," Shaw told a stakeholders' meeting at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston yesterday.
"In short, in regards to the duty-free importation of white sugar for the manufacturing process, there is more than anecdotal evidence that it is abused and it is leading to a backup of locally produced sugar. At last check, over 30,000 tonnes of locally produced sugar is sitting around in warehouses, either at Pan Caribbean or at Jamaica Cane Products Sales, which can't be sold. And this is while sugar illegally imported duty-free is finding its way into the market, further destroying what remains of the Jamaican sugar industry."
STAKEHOLDERS HAVE LONG DENIED CHARGES
Shaw's pronouncement is a charge that manufacturers have long denied and have, in fact, challenged former agriculture ministers to produce the evidence so that they can name and shame such culprits, who should then be arrested and charged.
However, despite failing to produce any evidence over the years to support these allegations and refusing to officially report the matter to the authorities, even though they claim to have overwhelming evidence, major players in the sugar industry have insisted that there is a thriving multimillion-dollar racket going on in the sector.
Now Shaw has gone further and put the onus on the manufacturers to police this system or face severe financial consequences.
He told the gathering at the luncheon hosted by the Sugar Industry Authority and All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers' Association, "I have to put our manufacturers on notice that since they aren't able to ensure that the system of importing duty-free sugar into the country is kept rigidly intact and is not abused, that guarantee no longer exists."
He added, "There is more than anecdotal evidence in my possession, as minister right now, that demonstrates conclusively that a lot of this sugar that is being imported duty-free is going into the market to further destroy the Jamaica indigenous industry.
"Therefore, all of the legitimate manufacturers who require their sugar duty-free will now have to face the prospect that one of the things that they are going to have to do in order to cut out this corruption of the system is that I am going to have to put the duty back upfront and we pay back to the legitimate manufacturers within 30 days after they have paid that duty. There is no other way to really rescue this industry."