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New policy in the making

Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce Dwight Sutherland appears to be moving forward with a proposal to “level the playing field” in the local automobile industry despite some pushback from the public.

On Monday, Sutherland met with “a consortium of used car dealers” to outline the “new vehicle policy”, according to a statement from the Ministry of Commerce.

And, he has the support of the country’s two most influential private sector agencies – The Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) and the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), whose leaders have both stressed the need for fair competition in the marketplace.

Monday’s statement indicated that the meetings were a continuation of discussions on the new policy that started last year aimed at enhancing the industry and protecting used car dealers from complaints being laid before the Office of Public Counsel.

“This involves the creation of a registry of assemblers, the creation of a used car cooperative, a common valuation method for vehicles, and strengthening consumer protection within the vehicle sector,” the statement revealed.

“The dealers left the meeting satisfied with the ministry’s efforts, and now have a better understanding of what Minister Sutherland meant when he made the comment “leveling the playing field,” it added.

After touring the National Automotive Sale and Service Company Limited (NASSCO) last month, the Commerce Minister was heavily criticized by members of the public when he announced that new legislation would clamp down on some third-party vehicle importers who are benefiting from lower taxes .

Consumers fear the changes could increase the price of vehicles and some have accused Minister Sutherland of favouring big business over entrepreneurs.

When asked to comment on the development, BPSA President Edward Clarke declared that a “thorough review of the duty structure” is needed in the interest of more equity in the marketplace.

“There is no doubt that you can’t have one [vehicle] coming in at one rate and another coming in at another rate because they are bringing a used car . . . I think a thorough review of the duty structure and the import of motor vehicles, whether they are picked apart or just used, needs to be reviewed,” said Clarke, who added that the disparities are not exclusive to the automobile industry.

In response to outcry over potential increases in the cost of vehicles under the new policy, Clarke suggested alternative ways of “leveling the playing field” that do not include raising taxes.

He also argued that cars that are imported in parts and reassembled should not be subjected to the same rates as regular vehicles.

“If they want to level the playing field, lower the tax rates on new cars, but they are probably not going to do that because it is a big money earner and a deterrent to those who might flood the streets with new cars,” he added.

BCCI President Trisha Tannis meanwhile defended the Minister’s position arguing that based on her perspective, Sutherland was simply fulfilling his mandate to maintain fair play and equality in the business sector.

“I know there has been a lot of outcry because of its perceived implications on the entrepreneurship class. I think we need to give the Minister an opportunity to give his full context of his statement and to be mindful of the fact that it is part of his mandate in relation to the fair trading commission to ensure that there is fair competition in any sector,” she added. kareemsmith@barbadostoday.bb