There is ample evidence to suggest that more and more persons are smuggling contraband and counterfeit tobacco products into the region. This is resulting in government losing millions of dollars in revenue annually.
This was disclosed by acting Comptroller of the Barbados Customs and Excise Department, Frank Holder. He made this assertion today, while delivering the opening remarks at a two-day Regional Training Course on Product Identification at Accra Beach Hotel, Rockley, Christ Church.
Mr. Holder revealed: "Government could lose as much as $175 million from duties and taxes from illegal cigarette imports.
"Here in Barbados, we have had our challenges with large suitcases of cigarettes being imported. Such importations, if not detected at our borders, are a significant loss of revenue to our Government."
The senior customs official pointed out that tobacco and cigarette smuggling had been developed by organised criminals as a business, generating "huge profits for those involved". Mr. Holder stated that it had now become a global problem, with the number of seizures of these products increasing, as smuggling routes continued to become diversified.
According to Mr. Holder, "Not all counterfeit cigarettes are smuggled across your borders. They are sometimes declared to Customs as genuine ones at the point of entry. In this way, counterfeit cigarettes are introduced into the illicit market and, even though duties and taxes are paid, a substantial profit is still made by the criminals who no longer incur the additional costs associated with concealing cigarettes."
The acting Comptroller of Customs noted that the World Customs Organisation maintained that counterfeiting and piracy were serious economic crimes.
He added: "The capacity of an economy to create and innovate is reduced, consumers are exposed to danger, the viability of commercial enterprises is undermined, there is a disincentive to inward investment and job creation, government revenues are reduced and the proceeds from counterfeiting and piracy, fund international criminal enterprises."
In order to stem the illegal trade, Mr. Holder indicated that adopting an "us and them" approach would be counter productive. Instead, he advocated a collective sharing of resources between the public and private sectors, along with effective networking and sustainable partnerships.
The workshop was organised by the Barbados Customs and Excise Department in association with Carisma Marketing Services – A Subsidiary of British American Tobacco Company Ltd.
It attracted 39 participants from several Caribbean countries including Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Belize, Guyana, Bonaire and Curacao.