Customs duty law changed

The government has passed a bill to revise the Customs Tariff Law to replace the existing 221 categories of imports and exports with 5,000 categories. 

Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush, who tabled the bill on Thursday, 5 April, said the long-awaited revamp of the coding system for classifying imports and exports meant the government would have more accurate and detailed statistics on which it could base policy decisions on import duty tariffs. 

Mr. Bush said the system for classifying imports and exports is “not detailed enough to provide useful information to government”. 

There are 221 commodity groups categorised into 22 tariff codes, which Mr. Bush said was too vague to enable the government and companies to determine the accurate volume and movement of imports and exports. 

The government is adopting an internationally standardised system of names and numbers to classify products. The system was developed and is maintained by the World Customs Organisation, formerly the Customs Cooperation Council, which is an independent intergovernmental organisation of 172 member countries. 

The amended law, under which a new system with more than 5,000 commodity groups will be introduced, was passed unanimously by members of the Legislative Assembly. 

Mr. Bush said adopting the system would bring “many advantages to the government and the trading community” by making the customs system more transparent and by enabling more efficient collections of tariffs, as well as providing national statistics on imports and exports. 

Under the Customs Tariff Bill 2011, a new $100 fee will be levied on each cargo container imported or exported to cover the cost of US$3 million spent on four X-ray machines and one mobile X-ray scanner that is used to detect illegal drugs or firearms, as well as the cost of ongoing maintenance and operation of those machines, Mr. Bush said. 

He said the specific amendments to the bill passed on 5 April will not mean an increase of import duty on any specific item or category and that all items listed as duty free in the existing tariff law would remain duty free under the amended law.  

The bill enables the governor in Cabinet to amend any of the schedules, which are the fees in the tariff lists. According to a statement issued from the Premier’s Office in February, the governor in Cabinet has the authority to waive or refund any duty under the law, but any future amendments or changes to the tariffs must be passed by the Legislative Assembly. 

This is at least the third time within the past five years that government has attempted to introduce the “harmonised customs tariff system”. The existing Customs Tariff Law (2002 Revision) lists tariffs or duty an importer must pay before taking possession of goods that are shipped to the Islands. That list is nine pages long, but the revised version is more than 200 pages long and is divided into more detailed descriptions of items. 

Moses Kirkconnell, Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Sister Islands, passed on concerns from his constituents that the expansion of the import classification list from 221 categories to more than 5,000 would put a “tremendous burden” on smaller importers, who may not have the resources of larger companies to quickly and automatically integrate the new system into its business. 

He urged customs staff to provide assistance to smaller businesses to ensure a smooth transition to the revised customs tariff system. 

GT Port2

Imports and exports passing through the George Town port will now be subject to a more detailed classification system. – Photo: Norma Connolly


  1. You’ve got to be kidding. From 221 to 5,000! Why stop at 5,000? Why not 10,000. Sounds like just an excuse to hire more people, create more jobs, and have more people holding little rubber stamps in their hands so people can line up and they show how much power they have by stamping their papers. But efficient it definitely isn’t — just creates more confusion and more errors. Why doesn’t the government just look at what England does, and adopt their system. Mark my words, in a few years down the line there will be headlines: Government Improves Customs Efficiency by Reducing Number of Import Categories

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