Paint retailers demand level playing field – Gov’t denies monopoly

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Paint retailers across Antigua are demanding equal access to the premium products supplied by Harris Paints.

Harris Paints – described as the leading paint company in the Caribbean – purchased the assets of Lee Wind Paint in 2018 to become the sole paint manufacturer. 

The government recently implemented an increase on regional and extra-regional duty to give the local manufacturer a competitive edge. 

However, local retailers like Jason Holowchak, the co-owner of North Coast Hardware, told Observer that it is not a level playing field. 

Information reaching Observer indicates that regional tax on imported paint moved from zero percent to 35 percent while international tax moved from 15 percent to 50 percent.  

Holowchak, who orders his paint products from regional and international suppliers, explained how this will affect his business.

“It means if we can’t sell paint and make a profit, we’re going to get smaller and we’re going to have to not employ as many people and I don’t want to do that. There are great people who work for my wife and I and this is serious,” Holowchak told Observer.

Huey Wiltshire, who established Sherwin Williams Paints more than a year ago, is one of the local paint store owners who will be affected by the taxes, since his paint is sourced directly from the United States.

Currently, only Paint Plus sells Ulttima paint from Harris Paints on the island. 

Observer understands that two other local businesses will eventually provide these products as well. 

But the current situation creates somewhat of a monopoly on the island, Wiltshire claims.

Another retailer, Denfield Francis Junior, owner of Colour Express, started his career as an employee at the now defunct Leewind Paint and today 90 percent of the products he sells is paint.

He told Observer that he feels Harris Paint has been given an unfair stake in the paint sector. 

“I was refused product from the factory and what I was told when I was refused is that Paint Plus had a problem with me selling a particular product,” he recalled.

Like several of her counterparts, Sandy Chaia Bahai who owns Raymond Chaia Hardware, also just wants to be able to access the company’s premier paint in order for business to remain competitive.

Minister EP Chet Greene, who is responsible for the manufacturing industry and played a key role in brokering the sale of Leewind Paints to Harris Paints, has since responded to the retailers’ queries, saying that the government has not given a monopoly to Harris Paints.

In regards to the tax, Greene explains that paint was one of a handful of commodities which was scheduled to be taxed.

With the regional approval through the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), the government, he said, renewed a list of products which includes curry powder, flour, pasta, water, aerated beverages, malt, beer, animal feed, paint and furniture among others and agreed to introduce a phased approach to its implementation. 

He said there was consultation with importers and manufacturers prior to the implementation of the tax and the context of the regional decision.

In addition, an initial three-month moratorium for duty rates to remain the same until June 2020 was established and a further extension was given until September 1 due to Covid-10. 

He said the tariff “must be strictly upheld” to promote the development of fledgling industries in the less developed countries of Caricom and to ignite and expand the local manufacturing sector to produce and export more goods within the region. 

In regards to claims of unfair competition, Greene told Observer that he is awaiting a response from Harris Paints regarding allegations made against the company and the marketing of its products.

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