The Caribbean Court of Justice handed down their ruling today in a case pursued by Belize against Trinidad and Tobago. Belize had contended it had evidence to show that between November 2018 and June 2020, Trinidad purchased brown sugar from non-CARICOM states without imposing the forty percent Common External Tariff. In November of 2021, Belize filed suit with the C.C.J., which also acts as an international tribunal interpreting the Treaty of Chaguaramas. Belize was represented by Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck and Samantha Matute. We spoke to Marshalleck today, who first gave us insight into what prompted the legal challenge.

E. Andrew Marshalleck, S.C., Attorney for Belize

"B.S.I. was having difficulties selling its sugar into the Trinidad market because it couldn't meet the prices that the purchasers in Trinidad insisted they could get brown sugar for. The prices were very low. This was the first signal. B.S.I. took the position that there was no way that anybody can sell brown sugar cheaper to Trinidad if the C.E.T. was being charged, than the prices they could offer. They were of the view that whatever was happening there was causing a market distortion on the ground that was driving the prices so low that not even B.S.I. whose sugar is not subject to the C.E.T. could compete. So, they conducted investigations and they were unable to uncover a number of shipments leaving from this region, Honduras, Guatemala, and heading to Trinidad. But, the information didn't have the particularity, nor were we able to get the primary sources of that information before the court to testify to it. It is a difficult proposition. You see, all documentation, evidence, imputation, would necessarily be with Trinidad. They know what was imported when and what the documentation is. So we had sought, based on the preliminary information, to get orders of disclosure from the court to force Trinidad to turn over documents that they had to show that what the circumstantial evidence showed was happening, which is that C.E.T., that brown sugar was being imported without charging the C.E.T."

Paul Lopez

"Were those documents released?"

E. Andrew Marshalleck, S.C, Attorney for Belize

"What Trinidad did was simply to go on its Asycuda system and print out all its invoices, all the entries for brown sugar. All of them necessarily showed that the C.E.T. was charged. The charges in the computer system are automated. So, once it is there it means it was charged. The ones that concern us are the ones that are not there."

C.C.J. Says Belize Evidence Insufficient in Case against Trinidad

The Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that there were severe shortcomings in the evidence offered by Belize to substantiate the allegations made against the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Senior Counsel Marshalleck responded to the court's ruling.

E. Andrew Marshalleck, S.C., Attorney for Belize

"What the court ruled is that the quality of the evidence offered by Belize as to those allegation didn't come to prove that, it wasn't sufficient to cast a burden on Trinidad to have to explain what happened, which is what we had argued in the proceedings before the court, that we were able to rely on circumstantial evidence and that would shift the burden to Trinidad to explain, to offer proof of what has happened, to show that they didn't import brown sugar without charging the C.E.T. The proof that Belize offered was some shipments from Guatemala and Honduras. It was gathered by some personnel from BSI, largely from some data bases that are kept by regional producers in Guatemala, Central America. Unfortunately, that database was not verified before the court. So, it didn't meet the requisite quality."

Belize Has Five Years to Appeal C.C.J. Ruling

Belize does, however, have five years to appeal today's C.C.J. ruling. This can occur at any point if new evidence comes to light. It is hoped this window of opportunity will cause greater monitoring of brown sugar imports in Trinidad and Tobago as well as instill pressure to honor the treaty obligations.

E. Andrew Marshalleck, S.C., Attorney for Belize

"The thing with the exercise of the original jurisdiction though, and it is a unique feature, at any time up to five years of the judgment, that would be from today, it is open to Belize to apply for the judgment to be revised if new evidence is to come into the possession of Belize showing that the relief sought should be granted. So, what the claim has done is cause greater scrutiny on the importation of sugar into Trinidad, and in an environment of heightened scrutiny it will be far more difficult for those kinds of acts that we complain of to happen again in the future going forward. It will be more difficult to enter Trinidad without the C.E.T. being charged. CARICOM has now established monitoring mechanisms, reporting requirement for it, so there is some level of supervision as to whether or not the charges are being imposed. And, of course there is the possibility of uncovering evidence as to exactly what happened and going back and asking the court to revisit its position. So, I think those two things create positive pressure for the treaty obligations to be met going forward, so that B.S.I. doesn't experience the kinds of problems it had in the past which gave rise to the claim."

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