The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will tomorrow hear oral arguments in a cement tariff case between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago over Barbadian cement maker Rock Hard Cement.
The CCJ, based in Port of Spain, is hearing the case in its original jurisdiction over interpreting the CARICOM Treaty in disputes between member states.
The justices are also expected to render judgment on previous rulings made by the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), CARICOM’s decision-making body on trade matters, and the World Customs Organization (WCO) in favour of Rock Hard.
The court ended the taking of evidence today by hearing four cases simultaneously regarding the issue of the classification of cement imported by Rock Hard Distribution Limited/Rock Hard Cement Limited into Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados and applicable customs duties.
In mid-April, the CCJ ruled in favour of Rock Hard Cement over Arawak Cement Company, a subsidiary of Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL), that the regional tax payable on cement imported by the Barbadian company from Portugal and Turkey should be five per cent and not 60 per cent.
The amount is a far cry from the 60 per cent tariff that Rock Hard Cement had once paid on the imports.
In 2001, COTED granted Barbados an exemption, from the regional Common External Tariff (CET) of zero to five per cent, so that Barbados could apply taxes of 60 per cent to categories of cement described as ‘other hydraulic cement’ – cement used to stop water and leaks in concrete and masonry structures.
The CET is intended to offer goods produced and distributed in CARICOM an advantage over imported ones. In 2015, Barbados decided to return to the CET and apply a five per cent tax on the ‘other hydraulic cement’ imported by Rock Hard Cement Limited.
TCL and Arawak Cement Company had contended that Barbados contravened the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas by unilaterally reducing and/or altering the CET on ‘other hydraulic cement’ from the rate approved by COTED.
They also claimed that Barbados misclassified extra-regional cement imported by Rock Hard as ‘other hydraulic cement’.
The four consolidated cases heard today involved Trinidad Cement Limited versus the State of Trinidad and Tobago, Rock Hard Distribution Limited, Moonilal Ramhit and Sons Contracting Limited; Trinidad Cement Limited, Arawak Cement Company Limited versus the State of Barbados and Rock Hard Cement Limited; Rock Hard Distribution Limited versus the State of Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean Community; and Rock Hard Cement Limited versus the State of Barbados, the Caribbean Community.
Chief Executive Officer of Rock Hard, Mark Maloney, who was present at today’s hearing in Port of Spain and was scheduled to give evidence, was informed by the court he was no longer needed because lawyers did not want to cross-examine him. No reasons were given.
Ramhit of Moonilal Ramhit and Sons was also in the same situation.
Much of the evidence taken today was of a technical nature.
The case concludes tomorrow with the court, meeting in its original jurisdiction, cautioning the attorneys to stick to their timelines in making their submissions.
The sitting, which will be streamed live from its website, begins it session at 10 a.m.