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Caribbean Court of Justice dismisses Belize versus Trinidad and Tobago sugar case

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Posted: Tuesday, February 1, 2022. 10:17 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has unanimously ruled that Belize had not sufficiently proven in the Original Jurisdiction of the court that Trinidad and Tobago failed to apply the 40 percent Common External Tariff (CET) on brown sugar imported from Guatemala and Honduras between November 2018 and June 2020.

Belize had argued that the importation cost Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) in reduced prices and sales, which Trinidad and Tobago denied. As alternative relief, Belize was willing to accept in substitution appropriately worded judicial statements of the importance of implementation and maintenance of the CET on extra-regional brown sugar, to which Trinidad and Tobago did not object. The Court found that “there were severe shortcomings in the evidence offered by Belize, in respect of the alleged failure of Trinidad and Tobago to apply the CET, that were not cured by reference to circumstantial evidence,” but it agreed that while the CET does not guarantee regional brown sugar producers an assured market, but that those producers are entitled to the protection of the market that the CET is intended to provide.

In commenting on the judgment to reporters, Andrew Marshalleck indicated the evidence in the case was primarily provided by BSI, in the form of documentation of shipments leaving Guatemala and Honduras for Port-of-Spain. However, “the information didn’t have the particularity, nor were we able to get the primary sources of that information before the court to testify to it. It is a difficult proposition. You see, all documentation, evidence, imputation, would necessarily be with Trinidad. They know what was imported when and what the documentation is. So, we had sought, based on the preliminary information, to get orders of disclosure from the court to force Trinidad to turn over documents that they had to show that what the circumstantial evidence showed was happening, which is that CET, that brown sugar was being imported without charging the CET. What Trinidad did was simply to go on its Asycuda system and print out all its invoices, all the entries for brown sugar. All of them necessarily showed that the CET was charged. The charges in the computer system are automated. So, once it is there it means it was charged. The ones that concern us are the ones that are not there.”

Marshalleck added that as a result, Trinidad did not have a burden to explain what happened based on Belize’s evidence.

But there are some positives in the judgment according to Marshalleck. Uniquely to the original jurisdiction of the CCJ, Belize has a five-year limit to apply for revision of the judgment if it can present new evidence in favour of the originally sought. This in turn has put, in his words, “scrutiny on the importation of sugar into Trinidad, and in an environment of heightened scrutiny it will be far more difficult for those kinds of acts that we complain of to happen again in the future going forward.” That, he said, should help BSI get more of Belize’s brown sugar into Trinidad and elsewhere in CARICOM.

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