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.