Small and medium-sized businesses, including shipping companies and couriers, could be forced out of operation because of inefficiencies at the Customs and Excise Division.
Reduced hours, as well as archaic practices, have contributed to businesspeople paying thousands of dollars in added cost per shipment.
Speaking to Guardian Media yesterday, chairman of the Logistics Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce TT (AMCHAM) Paul Pantin said the ease of doing business must improve.
“The private sector needs help. We cannot keep taxing and putting all pressure on the private sector because it is breaking,” he said.
He added, “The situation at Customs is getting worse. Because of the insistence on keeping to a set of archaic rules you find that the delays that are happening because of COVID will continue. Unless we amend those rules we will never see the expedited clearance of goods.”
Pantin also said AMCHAM had proposed a list of measures to get this economy back on track which included changes to the way Customs and Excise operates. However, he said the Ministry of Finance must be on board.
“ I would like to implore the Government various ministries in charge of the economy to put incentives in place to support businesses that are struggling. We need a fruitful economy open that will incentivize investment so that businesses will want to reinvest back in this country. This could only happen if the government puts the structures in place to help the businesses achieve that,” Pantin said.
Meanwhile, president of the Greater San Fernando Chamber of Industry and Commerce Kiran Singh said businesses were suffering negatively because of unfair Customs charges and high shipping costs.
“Customs is a law upon themselves. At the different ports of entry, it still does not open on weekends and public holidays. When we have to pay rents that go beyond the seven day free days it impacts on the cost of goods which is shared between the customers and the business owners,” Singh said.
He added, “The cost to ship goods increased 300 per cent and 400 and 500 per cent to get (Less Than Container Load) LCL cargo. We have to look at tariff regimes and we hope the government could seek redress so we can survive for the Christmas season.”
Saying inflation is increasing, Singh said because of the State of Emergency, the ports are operating at reduced hours and fewer hours of productive time. We would like the ease of restrictions so the port can be efficient and we can clear containers on time,” he said.
He noted that digitalization can speed up the clearing of containers.
“As it stands you cannot clear container and pay with a credit card, we have to pay certified cheque, no access to lynx or credit card. This has to change we are part of the global community we are supposed to go paperless and this is hampering how businesses operate.
When contacted Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon said Customs falls under the purview of the Finance Ministry.
She said her ministry had prepared a report of 61 recommendations to improve the ease of doing business.
She said there was no overnight fix to the problem, but added that all Ministries were working together.
“It is an ongoing exercise. The recommendations require research and the use of foreign consultants. We have to look at the efficiencies immediately and we are all committed and working towards improving that,” she added.