President Bharrat Jagdeo adopted a hard-line position in the legal case of Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL) and TCL Guyana Incorporated (TGI) against his government saying on Friday that the administration was defending the national interest which is “very important to us”.
Asserting that the government did not admit to defaulting during the recent trial, which ended with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) reserving its judgment, Jagdeo criticized the move to the court and pointed to what he described as the “hypocrisy of it all”.
Guyana did in fact concede at the commencement of the two-day hearing in Trinidad and Tobago that it was wrong to breach the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas by unilaterally suspending the Common External Tariff (CET) on cement imported from countries outside Caricom, and adding that it was making “no justifications for doing so”.
But, according to the audio of the proceedings, when asked whether Guyana is still in breach, lead counsel Keith Massiah, SC replied, “I cannot say that the waiver is not in place and I have no information that COTED [Council for Trade and Economic Development] was approached for a waiver.”
TCL and TGI had accused the Guyana government of breaching the treaty and were later granted leave to sue the government here after approaching the CCJ.
The case underscores the issue of Guyana’s suspension of the CET and its implications for the regional treaty, but the President said on Friday that an equally important issue is whether the jurisdiction of the court extended to a private group. He was responding to a question posed by a member of the media.
“The meeting in Belize was clear… many of the countries represented there agreed on the TCL matter and the issue of whether a private group could take a case to the CCJ,” Jagdeo said at a press conference at the Office of the President on Friday.
The President said too that the decision to proceed in the case was made on “some erroneous submissions”, adding that the issue would be forwarded to Guyana’s Attorney General and likely, other Attorney Generals across the region.
“The decision to open up the market was based on that, and we were simply defending the national interest,” he reiterated. Further, he said that the region had been weighing the issue of whether CET protection should be offered to companies that are internationally competitive, some of which he said, have majority shareholders that are extra-regional.
Jagdeo said that the issue came up with Trinidad and Tobago’s oil, stating that Guyana was paying more for oil from T&T than it was selling for in the US. He questioned again why companies selling in the US market competitively should be offered CET protection in Guyana.
With respect to the issue raised by the President of whether TCL and TGI qualified as candidates for special leave to bring proceedings before the CCJ, the regional court had ruled earlier this year that the incorporation of a company in a Caricom state (which is a party to the treaty) is enough to qualify the company as a candidate for special leave to bring proceedings. It also ruled that an individual or a company may possibly approach the CCJ to seek relief against the state of which he is a national or any other Caricom state, which is a contracting party.
Further, in the judgment on whether a national of a state party to the treaty can bring an action, the court said it rejected a literal interpretation of the relevant article, Article 222 of the Treaty and took into consideration the policy and objectives of the Treaty as disclosed both in its preamble and its substantive provisions. In the judgment, the court held that it is possible for an individual or a company to seek relief from the CCJ for breach of a treaty obligation undertaken by a state whether or not that individual or company is a national of the offending state.