Antigua negotiates opening of cement market

Antigua negotiates opening of cement market
Published: 12 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


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


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.

The team also highlighted the fact that the Government Information Service

of Jamaica on 7 Sept., 2006 indicated that that country was importing 2000

pounds of bag cement from Mainland International, showing Henry said,

“wide-spread shortages across Caricom.”

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.

Additionally, the Caricom Secretariat and the appropriate entities in the

countries, as requested, would be establishing a monitoring mechanism to

keep the demand requirement and supply capabilities under review.

Henry said, “It is hoped that with the suspension more cement would be

available for the construction sector across these territories. So it is for

persons who are in the business of the procurement of cement to avail

themselves of this new opportunity being granted to locate cement wherever

it is available so that we can have sufficient cement for the construction


“It is also the hope that there will be no more shortages of cement given

that we have gone the extra mile and put tremendous amount of work and

negotiation within the OECS and with our colleagues from the other

territories to arrive at this seminal decision,” said Henry.

By next month, the decision is expected to take effect once the formal

communication from the Secretariat reaches the government.