Ja’s cement tax may go

Jamaica’s Prime Minister P.J. Patterson Monday said the Government may consider removing the remaining tariff on cement which was imposed to protect local manufacturer, Caribbean Cement Company Limited.

Mr. Patterson made the suggestion yesterday while addressing the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House.

He said the move was necessary in order to salvage the construction industry, which has ground to a halt after some 500,000 tonnes of faulty cement was released on the market, according the Jamaica Gleaner.

The release of the faulty cement, and subsequent recall of the product, led to a halt in construction projects, the temporary laying off of an estimated 30,000 workers, and a fear of likely funeral delays. Last Friday, Carib Cement admitted the defective cement was on the market for much longer than it had earlier stated and blamed, among other things, the quality of the material for the sub-standard product. The company hinted at changes in its quality control department.

Yesterday, Mr. Patterson said that despite the problems identified at the cement company, the number of natural disasters experienced by the Caribbean and the size of the expansion taking place in the tourism, bauxite and construction industries, the demand for cement had turned out to be higher than expected.

“… And I would point out that this is not a phenomenon that is confined to Jamaica; it applies almost everywhere at the present time throughout the region, including Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.

“The last time we discussed the matter at the meeting of heads (of CARICOM) in Barbados, it was recognised that we would have to revisit the CET (Common External Tariff) on whether there should be some suspension of the CET because of the need to import cement from outside of the region,” he said.

When pressed as to when Commerce Minister Phillip Paulwell would make good on his promise to make a statement on the matter, Mr. Patterson was, however, peeved.

“The minister will make a statement … within 48 hours,” he said defensively.

Only two weeks ago, Independent Senator, Norman Horne, piloted a resolution in the Senate asking for the removal of the tariff after Government announced it would be reducing the tariff on imported cement from 40 per cent to 15 per cent for an initial six months.

But Horne, in his resolution, said that the removal of all duties would help to restore normality to the construction sector.

Information Minister, Senator Burchell Whiteman, disclosed that a large shipment of cement had arrived in the island yesterday. He was, however, unable to say how much cement was in that shipment.