Import tax dispute on cement settled by the CCJ

Judgment was delivered today by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the consolidated matters of Trinidad Cement Limited and Arawak Cement Limited vs. The State of Barbados, and Rock Hard Cement Limited vs. The State of Barbados and The Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The CCJ ruled that the regional tax payable on ‘other hydraulic cement’, imported by Rock Hard Cement from Portugal and Turkey, should be 5%. The case was in the CCJ’s Original Jurisdiction where the Court interprets the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.

In 2001, CARICOM’s Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) granted Barbados an exemption, in respect of the regional Common External Tariff (CET) of 0-5%, so that the State could apply taxes of 60% to categories of cement described as ‘other hydraulic cement’. The regional tariff is intended to offer goods produced and distributed in the region an advantage over imported ones. In 2015, Barbados decided to return to the CET and apply a 5% tax on the ‘other hydraulic cement’ imported by Rock Hard Cement Limited.

In its ruling, the Court decided that where COTED allowed a Member State to charge taxes higher than the regional tariff on the importation of good from outside the region, there was no need for the Member State to obtain approval from COTED to revert to the CET. However, in these circumstances, the Member State should give reasonable notice of its intention of returning to the regional tariff. The Court stated that this notice would ensure that regional businesses enjoy transparency, certainty, and predictability of tax structures. This was, according to the Court, “reflective of good administrative practices, preserved the sovereign autonomy of the Member State and ultimately enhanced the overall functioning of the CSME”.

The Court also found that the regional manufacturers of cement, who had brought the action against Barbados, had notice for several years of the intention of Barbados to revert to the regional tariff and therefore could not succeed in their action.

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