Caution Issued to Caribbean Governments on Increased Cigarette Levies

This is the view of head of corporate regulatory affairs of Carisma Marketing Services – the agency responsible for the marketing and distribution of cigarettes produced by British American Tobacco (BAT) across the Caribbean, excluding Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica – Rhys Campbell.

At the time of comment, Campbell was speaking to reporters during a break in the second meeting of directors of customs and security authorities from Central and Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Panama City recently.


While commending the initiatives being taken by customs authorities in both the Bahamas and Belize to combat the trade of contraband goods, Campbell said, “It can’t be to just increase the excise and expect to collect more. The important component is ensuring that you’re monitoring very carefully and closely what exactly is happening at the port and ensuring that the products that are coming in are paying the concomitant taxes.”

The Carisma executive highlighted some of the measures implemented by BAT to make it easier for customs officials to identify counterfeit cigarettes or cigarettes which are not intended for sale on the local market. These include track and trace controls to ensure products end up in the right market, labelling on the cigarette package, indicating the intended retail market, as well as a manufacturer’s code that provides information on the legitimacy of the origin of the product.


The delegates from some 16 countries included heads of customs from The Bahamas, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominican Republic, Suriname and host-country Panama, to discuss aspects of legislation, new technologies for the detection of illegal traffic of goods not complying with health regulations and that defraud the customs rules and other issues of significant importance to the continent.

In her address to the delegates, Dr Gloria Moreno de Lopez, Director-General of the National Customs Authority of Panama, explained that the Authority co-ordinates national efforts to tighten controls to curb the sale of products sold in Panama illegally.


“Among these is tobacco (or cigarettes). Forty percent comes from Paraguay, 30 percent from China and another 30 percent from India. These are brands that are not legally marketed in the region and enter without meeting any of the laws imposed by government. Tax audits at borders are conducted as well as patrolling and intelligence actions at major airports, ports and free zones of the country, in coordination with other institutions,” she said.

Added Moreno de Lopez: “In 2009, some 1,784,202 cigarettes were seized nationwide. The following year, the figure increased dramatically: 2010 ended with 5,399,004 cigarettes seized.”

In keeping with its drive to address contraband, the Authority recently invested some Balboas24.8 million in the purchase of nine portable scanners which, according to Moreno de Lopez, will not only facilitate global trade, but will also improve security standards established by the World Customs Organisation (WCO).


A key feature of the Panama meeting was the signing of a memorandum of understanding by the delegates, which aims to build and promote the exchange of information between customs in Central America, the Caribbean and Latin America.

The Panama National Customs Authority and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service have already signed an MOU to fight money laundering activities through the creation of a Trade Transparency Unit (TTU). The unit specializes in trade information exchange between the two countries to identify anomalies that may uncover criminal violations including trade related money laundering, and to protect the integrity of the trading system of each country.


(Parts of this article were written with content submitted in a Caribbeannewnews release).




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