The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has reserved judgment in the closely watched case of Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL) and TCL Guyana Incorporated (TGI) against the Guyana Government over the application of the Common External Tariff.
Guyana conceded on Monday at the commencement of the two-day hearing in Trinidad and Tobago that it was wrong for breaching the Revised Treaty of Chagua-ramas by unilaterally suspending the Common External Tariff (CET) on cement imported from countries outside of Caricom, and noting too that it was making “no justifications for doing so”.
But, according to the audio of the proceedings, when asked whether Guyana is still in breach, lead Counsel Keith Massiah, SC. replied, “I cannot say that the waiver is not in place and I have no information that COTED (Caricom Council for Trade and Economic Development) was approached for a waiver.”
Through its admission of wrongdoing the government here faces the issue of compensation as TCL/TGI are claiming some US$2.5M in damages. The case is also seen as critical as it is the first test of the regional court in its original jurisdiction – interpretation of the Treaty of Chaguaramas – as distinct from its appellate role.
Senior Counsel Dr Claude Denbow, who filed the application on behalf of the cement companies, argued that the case is a fundamental one because it focuses on how the CCJ will treat a breach of the regional treaty, adding that it cuts to the core of the issue of “whether one member state will be allowed to tear up the treaty and treat it in an arbitrary and whimsical fashion”.
Dr. Denbow said that Guyana still refuses to implement the CET after being requested to do so. He contended that Guyana’s actions set a dangerous precedent for the sanctity and continuing viability of the treaty. He said too that Guyana showed total contempt for the treaty.
Massiah had conceded on Monday that Guyana should have approached COTED prior to suspending the CET. But, he argued that TCL and TGI were unable to meet the demands of local distributors, adding that “the inability to do so has continued”.
But he pointed to the independent cement audit report released by COTED late last year, which showed that TCL was unable to meet the requests of distributors in Guyana up to the period November 2008, and respectfully submitted that the court pay some consideration to the findings.