The T&T Manufacturers Association says as much as 20% of key brands of imported scotch, vodka and cognac are likely to be smuggled into the country through illicit means.
Illicit alcoholic beverages are those that do not comply with the regulations and taxes in the countries where they are consumed.
According to the TTMA, the majority of illicit alcohol in T&T is sold and bought during the Christmas period through formal channels such as supermarkets, wholesale distributors, liquor stores and shops.
So how can you tell the difference?
Nicholas Hospedales, Director of Premium Beverages at A.S. Bryden & Sons, says genuine products contain manufacturer codes to ensure quality, or if needed, to make a recall.
Illicit traders however remove product codes before it arrives into the country, making the shipment untraceable.
Mr. Hospedales says agencies such as the VAT Office, Board of Inland Revenue, Police Service, Customs and Excise Division, and the Chemistry Food & Drug Division need to form a cohesive approach to tackle the issue.
He suggests four approaches:
- reassess the duty structure
- review the internal processes of the Customs and Excise Division to ensure the containers are correctly screened and the associated consignees are red flagged
- revision of the laws to ensure the penalty matches the crime
- ensure enforcement of the existing laws and officers are trained todistinguish contraband from genuine goods
Meanwhile Crime Stoppers has established a stakeholders’ group (importers, exporters, suppliers, businesses) which will be supported by an operational joint taskforce consisting of the TTMA, the T&T Bureau of Standards, Intellectual Property Office, Customs and Excise Division, the TTPS and Crime Stoppers itself.
The Taskforce is headed by Deputy Police Commissioner Jayson Forde, however its work has been impeded by the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
Its aim is to draw on existing information, identify gaps in knowledge, commission research & actions to plug the gaps, and to call on companies to implement a “zero tolerance” policy towards illicit trade.