The inability to clear vehicles at the Bridgetown Port as a result of issues with the ASYCUDA World system is threatening to put the brakes on Barbados’ largest importer of electric vehicles.
However, Government is giving the assurance that all the “teething problems” would be sorted very soon and the doing business environment in Barbados should improve drastically.
Managing Director of Megapower Limited Joanna Edghill told Barbados TODAY that the inability to get a number of electric vehicles cleared in the last month alone has resulted in her company losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales that she was not sure would now happen.
She explained that for Megapower, which employs eight people, the month of September has been “horrible” with
ASYCUDA World and the company being unable to clear anything from the port for “six plus weeks”.
“The only point of encouragement is that we are not alone, but things have to change very soon for our business to continue operating,” she said.
While Edghill admitted she was not fully aware what the holdup was, she said a major part of it seemed to be related to the tariffs and the codes that are required to clear the items.
“Our code changed. So we previously had a code that we would enter in order to clear vehicles, so that code is not even there. There is a new code, but the new tariff doesn’t match the old tariff and also it has not carried over our information I guess, I am not quite sure,” she said.
“What I do know is that our customs broker is working on it. The Government seems to be working on it as well, but it really is a matter of urgency. Not just for us but for businesses across Barbados,” said Edghill.
She explained that the impact has been huge on her business, pointing out that she has been unable to ship any vehicle for this month, and she was hoping to sell as many as nine locally.
“So I am unable to pay suppliers. Here we are commissioned-based, so the more vehicles we sell the more you get paid. So everyone in my staff complement is feeling that squeeze,” said Edghill.
“We then of course have customers and we are a customer-centered business. So we have nine customers waiting for vehicles that we cannot hand over. Some of them are renting vehicles. So again it is trying to ensure that customers don’t leave us, but it is hard to manage that,” she added.
Edghill said she suspected “the knock-on effects are going to go on for several months”, adding that she was not even in a position to say if she would be able to ship vehicles next month.
Under the old processing system there were about six different charges on electric vehicles, but the new system has only one.
Efforts to reach the Comptroller of Customs Owen Holder and President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry Tricia Tannis were unsuccessful.
However, addressing a recent high-level energy conference here, Prime Minister Mia Mottley had expressed disappointment that she was doing “cleaning up” of several systems and entities since coming to office to make doing business easier in Barbados.
And she apologized to importers of electric vehicles, promising an improvement in the situation soon.
Mottley had explained that when the tariffs on electric vehicles were set by the former Freundel Stuart administration the legislation was never passed, so that the new ASYCUDA system comes in with the higher rates in the legislation, which have been reduced.
“So we have to go back now and make sure that what was being applied for the last four or five years continues to be applied even though it was being applied illegally or without lawful authority. That is the kind of nonsense and cleaning up that is distracting us on a daily basis,” said Mottley.
“So for those with electrical cars we apologise to you, but rest assured that the rates that have applied will continue to apply but that they need now to be put in law, so that when the ASYCUDA system picks up what is the law that they get the correct rates, and that the discomfort that you have experienced for the last few weeks hopefully will be a thing of the past,” promised Mottley.
With several other small and medium-sized enterprises complaining about other challenges in clearing items at the port over the past several weeks, Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce Dwight Sutherland has empathized with them.
Sutherland promised: “Once that system is up and running efficiently you will see enhanced business activity and even opportunities.”
“ASYCUDA World implementation has brought what I call a little disturbance to the business sector, and like any new system that you implement you are going to have teething problems. Some will say it has taken too long,” he said, adding that after meeting the Comptroller of Customs on Wednesday he was given the assurance that “most of the problems, if not all”, have now been resolved.
“From a business perspective I would want all of these challenges to be dealt with expeditiously because what it says to the business community is ‘yes, this Government is very serious about deconstructing and reconstructing and creating avenues whereby business can flourish and we can enhance this economy’.
“So we may have one or two challenges. I don’t know the details right now, but what I can say is that I know the Government I am working with and we are passionate,” he said.
“We have to get ASYCUDA World right first and from there we will improve business facilitation and trade facilitation. The importation of goods into this country will become more seamless. So ASYCUDA is a part of a system that will enhance the ease of doing business,” said Sutherland.