Antigua negotiates opening of cement market

Antigua negotiates opening of cement market
Published: 13 September 2006

Hopefully bringing an end to the chronic cement shortage plaguing the region, Antigua & Barbuda and the OECS have emerged successful in their bid to the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) to suspend the tariff on cement imported into the region.

At the just concluded 17th meeting of COTED on external trade negotiations, held 8 and 9 September in Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, on behalf of the OECS countries, submitted to the Council a proposal to suspend the Common External Tariff (CET) on cement for two years. This tariff, under the Revised Treaty of Charguaramas, is applied to certain outlined products that are imported into the region from countries not a part of the treaty.

On 1 Sept., Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer had written to the Caricom Secretariat, expressing the desire to have the tariff on cement placed on the agenda of the special COTED meeting and it was promised to be treated urgently.

The negotiation team included Trade Co-ordinator Dr. Clarence Henry and Research Officer in the Ministry of Finance and Economy Barbara Williams, presented several strong arguments, which resulted in the eventual success of the bid, pursued according to Article 83.2 of the Caricom treaty.

Henry said that in their presentation, they highlighted the fact that the recurrent cement shortages have been plaguing the OECS for the past year or more, and that Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL), the region’s main cement supplier, is unable to assure Antigua and the rest of the OECS that it would be able to provide and sustain the agreed upon cement supply in the medium term.

TCL, under the Treaty, is mandated to provide 75 per cent of the region’s cement needs, and they have indicated to the OECS member states that they are unable to do so.

Henry said that they also submitted statements made by Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Trade and Industry Kenneth Valley that he also wanted to suspend the CET on imported steel and cement and possibly aggregates.

Henry said that the shortages are having a negative impact on the member states of the OECS and they urged the rest of Caricom to similarly recognise that fact. “These shortages, if not tackled with this suspension would more or less hamper the sustainable development presently ongoing throughout the OECS,” said the Trade Co-ordinator.

They likewise submitted that on 29 May 2006, Surinam had also requested a suspension of the CET and in a surprise turn of events, Trinidad & Tobago had also submitted a request on 30 August, both of which are pending.

At the end of the two-day COTED, Antigua & Barbuda, the member states of OECS, Surinam and Trinidad & Tobago, were granted the right to apply or waive the tariff for the requested two year period. At the conclusion, a review will be conducted.