In its ruling delivered on February 1, 2022, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has dismissed the original jurisdiction claim filed by Belize against Trinidad & Trinidad over the latter’s alleged failure to apply the Common External Tariff (CET) on extra-regional imported brown sugar.
In its claim filed on September 30, 2020, Belize contended that Trinidad & Tobago had over the period November 2018-July 2020 failed to apply the CET rate of 40% on extra-regional imported brown sugar from Honduras and Guatemala. This, Belize argued, had adversely impacted prices and sales made by Belize Sugar Industries Ltd, a State-owned entity which exports sugar to Trinidad & Tobago. In light of this alleged breach by Trinidad & Tobago of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, Belize sought declarations and damages. Inter alia, Trinidad & Tobago argued in its defense that it had not allowed for the importation of brown sugar from Guatemala and Honduras without applying the CET of 40% on that item.
In dismissing Belize’s claim, the CCJ cited “severe shortcomings” in the evidence offered by Belize, in respect of the alleged failure of Trinidad and Tobago to apply the CET, and that these shortcomings “were not cured by reference to circumstantial evidence”.
In its nearly fifty page judgment, the CCJ also took time to reaffirm and reiterate the importance of the obligation on Member States to impose and maintain the CET on the importation of extra-regional goods. Simply put, a CET refers to the uniform tariff rates applied by members of a customs union against imports from third countries, that is, non-parties to the customs union. Such a measure protects the exports of the members of the customs union within the union and aim to make them more competitive vis-à-vis products outside the customs union. Article 82 of the RTC requires member states to establish and maintain the CET, while Article 83 outlines the only ways in which the CET on an item may be altered or suspended.
Citing its previous case law on the matter, the CCJ emphasized that the CET was a “fundamental pillar” in the establishment of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and its importance in encouraging and promoting the production of goods within the community.
With regard to the specific case at hand, the CCJ noted at paragraph 122 of the judgment as follows:
“In the present circumstances, this Court re-emphasises the importance of maintaining the CET especially in respect of a product such as brown sugar which is of demonstrable importance to Member States such as Belize which manufactures that product. No one disputes that Belize has made very significant investment in its agricultural sector in general and in sugar cultivation and production specifically. The CET does not guarantee producers of sugar in Belize an assured market, but those producers are entitled to the protection of the market that the tariff is intended to provide.”
Additionally, the CCJ went on to urge the Community “to superintend the conclusion of the Monitoring Mechanism for Sugar as quickly as possible to ensure that the benefits intended to ensure to the regional sugar producers are not frustrated and impaired”.
The CCJ in its original jurisdiction has compulsory and exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine disputes concerning the interpretation and application of the RTC between Member States parties and between the Member States parties and the Community.
The full judgment may be read here.