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Export containers not checked

Trade Minister after $.6b canned cocaine bust:

By Carla Bridglal carla.bridglal@trinidadexpress.com

Containers leaving Trinidad and Tobago’s ports are not traditionally inspected as those coming in, Trade Minister Vasant Bharath said yesterday. 

“Traditionally we have not checked containers or goods leaving Trinidad, we’ve always checked for goods coming in, so we are protecting our own borders but maybe it’s something we need to be more vigilant at,” Bharath told reporters  at the Courtyard Marriott in Port of Spain. 

He added that a container scanner has arrived in the country and was in the process of being installed at the Port of Port of Spain. That scanner, he added, was set up primarily for the purpose of importation. 

Bharath’s comments come following reports last week that Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officers at the Port of Norfolk in the US state of Virginia seized 732 pounds of cocaine concealed in cans bearing the labels of popular SM Jaleel product Trinidad Orange and Grapefruit juices on December 20 last year. 

The wholesale value of the cocaine is about US$12 million and has a street value of as much as US$100 million, according to Customs officials. 

 Bharath yesterday met with the Comptroller of Customs, Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association, ExporTT and ministry staff about what can be done, and in a way that will not increase bureaucracy at the ports. 

“What we don’t want to do is introduce too many processes that will affect the work we are doing regarding ease of doing business and affect in any way more bureaucracy from taking place,” Bharath said. He added that another meeting is scheduled for tomorrow to give a “better indication of measures that can be put in place to close any loopholes”.

 Bharath said he had not met with any members of the United States’ Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reportedly in the country investigating the drug bust. 

He acknowledged this was the second incident reported in as many months involving products from the same company. Last November , Royal Navy veteran Joromie Lewis from Hampshire, UK, died after drinking a Pear D soft drink laced with liquid cocaine.

“I think it has been definitively proven than SM Jaleel had no part in the export of any of those products-- first to the UK and this one. ExporTT has been able to verify that. We have got to be very careful that the name of T&T, brand T&T, and T&T manufacturers generally are protected from this. 

We don’t in any way put stumbling blocks making it more difficult for manufacturers to export. One of the things we are thinking about is ensuring that (consolidated containers) will probably have to go through more stringent checks than if it came directly from the manufacturer,” he said.

TTMA president Nicholas Lok Jack said a balance needs to be established to put mechanisms in place that will not let bureaucracy creep through. 

“The real concern is the reputation of Trinidad and Tobago. It is alarming we have this volume of drugs passing through the country, we need to improve our security at the borders,” he said.

He added that any brand owner would be concerned about any scandal involving their brands, but noted it was not difficult to go to a wholesaler and buy a few cases of any product and package something in it.         

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