Inniss criticizes Obama over rum tax

A “cover-over” tax on Caribbean rum exports entering the United States is continuing to present “a significant challenge” to this important regional industry, according to Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development Donville Inniss, who is vowing to keep fighting for its removal.

Addressing the annual West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association’s (WIRSPA) technical seminar and rum tasting event here last night, Inniss expressed disappointment that US President Barack Obama, whose election as the first black American leader was widely celebrated in the Caribbean, has not been of any help to the region in seeking resolution to this and other issues of concern.

Minister of Industry and Commerce Donville Inniss
Minister of Industry and Commerce Donville Inniss

“I make this point and I really cannot apologize for it,” Inniss said. “I don’t know that the current occupant of the White House has been of any tremendous benefit to us in the region, certainly when it comes to matters like these. I am very hurt because I have seen many entities in the region challenged by decisions made in the White House in the last couple of years that have me very concerned.”

“I think it is wrong,” said Inniss of the discriminatory “cover over” tax which supports Puerto Rican and US Virgin Islands rum producers. “I think what the United States of America has done goes against the fundamental tenet of fair trade. It has done and can do considerable damage to the economies of the region,” he added.

Since its introduction and subsequent extension in 2012, the “cover-over” tax has made it difficult for regional rum to compete in the US market against similar US-made products. The tax is levied at the rate of US$13.25 per gallon on all rum imported into the US. The proceeds are then handed over to Puerto Rico and the USVI on the basis of their rum production.

Inniss lauded regional rum and spirits producers for focusing on niche markets, branding and pitching their products way above what competitors are doing. “That is something that the Government of Barbados and regional governments, I am sure, will continue to support,” he said, “but it doesn’t belie the fact that what the US did and continues to support under President Obama, of all people, is fundamentally wrong.”

Inniss encouraged regional producers not to be daunted by the challenges since, as he put it, “the road ahead looks a lot smoother than it has been in the last few years” because of their efforts to find new markets and develop niche products. He called on operators of restaurants, bars and hotels to always ensure that local rums were the first choice of drink for locals and tourists.

Addressing the event, chairman of WIRSPA Dr Frank Ward said the association had been “attempting in myriad different ways” to address the challenges. Making it clear that “the road ahead is not going to be easy”, he said he was confident that growth and expansion of the industry were still possible.

“I see a bright future for the industry but one which needs a great deal of work and a great deal of application and commitment from all,” he said.

5 Responses to Inniss criticizes Obama over rum tax

  1. Beverley Greaves
    Beverley Greaves September 17, 2015 at 10:24 am

    I am clearly of the opinion the these jackasses that have been given the mandate to oversee the affairs of our country is out of their depth. Is he really speaking about President Obama? Smh

  2. zeus September 17, 2015 at 11:38 am

    Counter the jackass and tell us what Obama has done for the region

  3. dwayne jordan September 17, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    Does he really think high on the agenda is rum sales or our ability to gain access to usa market? Obama must have no clue about this as president. What Mr.Inniss need to do it lobby to bring that to the attention of policy makers, and speak to spirits makers here and see what is best,,join the big groups or try fighting them. But he also need to understand that $ runs these policies and if we have a large spirits block in usa inclosive puerto rico rums looking to export to the world how the hell would they allow tiny barbados the ability to upset their bread and butter.

    The only way for our spirits to get into bigger markets is for our companies to pool together and lobby or partner with said large spirits companies to share their product dor sale over there.

  4. Tony Waterman September 18, 2015 at 3:06 am

    Funny that the Minister is Going after President Obama over the Rum Cover Tax, which he in all probability knows NOTHING about, but he is not Going after T&T for not allowing PHD products on their Supermarket Shelves, because of their claims that the Labelling does not meet their Standard, but Nestle has the same Labelling as the PHD and is on the shelves.
    Jamaica has put a Tariff on PHD Milk to protect their Milk Industry, this is contrary to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and Mr Inniss has not said a word to Jamaica or carried it to Caricom.
    St.Lucia has put a Tax on our products going into their Market, again, against the Traety Rules, and Mr.inniss has Said Nothing, but he has found the time to castigate Barack Obama. I Wonder Why

  5. SAM CLARKE September 18, 2015 at 11:14 am

    @dwayne jordan. the answer to your question is a resounding yes. it was discuss at the lat organization of american states in panama and at various other forums. so it has been head and center of regional discussions on trade. ALSO MR. JORDAN, BARBADOS IS NOT THE ONLY RUM PRODUCING COUNTRY THAT HAS BEEN ADDRESSING THIS ISSUE, BUT THE ENTIRE REGION AS A WHOLE HAVE BEEN DISCUSSING THIS ISSUE IN WASHINGTON AND ELSE WHERE.

    As to your point about getting together, this has been an ongoing effort regionally. You too must understand that it is the corporate giants that have been buying up USA bottler, as a way to dominate the market, while getting USA tax breaks.
    SO ON THIS ISSUE, I STAND WITH MR. INNISS AND THE OTHER CARIBBEAN LEADERS. It is okay to be political, but to be just opposing without the facts, does an injustice to the issue.


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