By Orville Williams
Individuals and groups pushing for a reduction in intra-regional travel taxes may have to wait a while longer before any substantial consideration is given.
This was the word from Cabinet Spokesperson, Information Minister Melford Nicholas, during the most recent post-Cabinet press briefing.
Citizens across the region have been widely advocating for a reduction in these taxes and late last year, Prime Minister Gaston Browne agreed to lobby for some reform at the Caricom level, following a request from a social group – The Citizens Against High Intra-Regional Caribbean Travel Taxes – pressing the issue.
Since that interaction though, Nicholas said there have not been any additional consultations.
“I don’t think beyond that conversation, specifically as it relates to the discussions that we’re having on Covid, there have been [any] further conversations about it,” he said.
With regional governments dealing with other pressing issues, including infrastructural development, Nicholas said movement on those discussions is not likely in the short term.
“What we can say is that various state governments in the Caribbean have had to do significant infrastructure in their port facilities. We all know that St Vincent [& the Grenadines] built a new international airport recently; we have refurbished ours and most of these developments are tied to loans that again, are tied to various landing fares and the like.
“[Therefore], it’s not easy to just make an off the cuff decision. These are measures that are sometimes more than skin deep; they go right into the whole question of how public financing funds these developmental projects. So, there has to be an overall, wider conversation about it [and] I don’t think that is the decision that’s going to occupy the minds of state governments now, at the particular point in time,” Nicholas explained.
The Information Minister added that given the current situation, more emphasis will be placed on the freedom and safety of travel within the region, especially given the difference in some coronavirus-affected countries.
“I think where we’re talking about intra-regional travel, people are going to be more concerned about having certain bridges to ensure that if countries have similar healthcare facilities and similar management of Covid, then there is more the likelihood that persons will allow citizens from one jurisdiction to pass to the other.
“I think Jamaica has identified [Antigua and Barbuda] as one of those countries in which they’re feeling comfortable with persons travelling from Antigua to Jamaica as regional travel resumes.
“When we look at our neighbour, Haiti, where they are claiming now that there is one person being affected with Covid every seven minutes, then that is a different consideration. As well as the Dominican Republic, where they have had more than 1,000 persons being affected. That creates a different type of challenge and I think that is what would occupy and exercise the minds of state governments now, rather than the taxes that [are] affecting intra-regional travel,” Nicholas expressed.
There have been several studies and discussions surrounding the possible reduction of intra-regional travel taxes, in a bid to increase the affordability and subsequent freedom of travel within the region.
However, with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, it is unclear what direction these conversations will head, as the region attempts to rebuild in a post-Covid-19 market.