ROCK Hard Cement has lost its challenge against Government’s move to introduce a quota on imported cement and a proposal to increase import duties.
On Tuesday, Justice Jacqueline Wilson dismissed the judicial review claim brought by Trinidad and Tobago-based Rock Hard Distributors (RHTT) and St Lucia-based Rock Hard Distribution Ltd (RHDL) against the Ministry of Trade and Industry, over moves which the cement importer claims would cripple their operations.
Newsday was told the judge’s written reasons will be issued in a week.
In its claim, Rock Hard sought to challenge the November 13, 2020 decision of the ministry to introduce a quota from January 1 only allowing 75,000 tonnes across the board for all distributors for the year.
The other decision taken by the ministry which is being challenged is the proposal it sent to the Commission for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) for a further suspension of the common external tariff (CET) on other hydraulic cements and its intent to apply a 50 per cent rate of duty.
The ministry had asserted that the quota system was being introduced to reduce the leakage of foreign exchange, strengthen the local cement manufacturing industry, maintain employment and build on exports.
The trial before Wilson took place in February when she reserved her decision.
Rock Hard also has a similar challenge at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) against the Government of TT. In those proceedings it is asking the Caribbean court to have reviewed the decision of the council for COTED of Caricom to grant TT’s request to suspend the CET of five per cent on imports of other hydraulic cement and impose the 50 per cent rate, starting January 1.
In preliminary arguments before Wilson and the CCJ, the distributor’s attorneys argued that the imposition of the 50 per cent import duty, would have a deleterious effect on the viability and sustainability of the companies he represented.
They were also seeking injunctions at both courts.
In opposition, the ministry’s lead counsel said any injunction granted would have nullified government’s decision and allow Rock Hard to bring in cement with zero per cent tax.
Both court heard that the company wanted to move from 35 per cent in January 2020 to zero in 2021, which was described as an extreme position from a governmental point of view, and all the Government wanted to do was raise revenue in pandemic times.
The position of local manufacturer Trinidad Cement Ltd was also likely to be affected. It has put in an appearance in the matter at the CCJ.
In a previous decision, in April 2019 the CCJ settled the import tax dispute on cement, ruling that the regional tax payable on “other hydraulic cement” that Rock Hard imported from Turkey should be five per cent.