Parliament approves import duty hikes

Parliament has approved amendments to the Import-Export Act to raise import duties on a range of goods as part of the current administration’s revenue raising measures.

The amendment bill submitted on behalf of the government by MP Mohamed Rafeeq Hassan was passed with 34 votes in favour and 19 against at yesterday’s sitting of the People’s Majlis.

Once the amendments (Dhivehi) are ratified by the president, a 15 percent tariff will be reintroduced for construction material, articles of apparel and clothing accessories, silk, wool, woven fabrics, cotton, man-made filaments, wadding, special yarns, twine, cordage, ropes, cables, carpets and other textile floor coverings, lace, tapestries, trimmings and embroidery.

Tariffs will also increased from the current zero percent to five percent for sugar confectioneries and diesel motor oil and raised from 10 to 15 percent for organic chemicals and compounds of precious metals, rare-earth metals, radioactive elements or isotopes.

Custom duties for vehicle seat covers will be raised from 35 percent to 75 percent.

While custom duties for organic and chemical fertilisers and pesticides as well as for live chickens, ducks, turkey, quail, and chicks will be eliminated, duties for polythene bags andĀ items that contain hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) will be hiked to 400 percent and 200 percent respectively.

The tariff hikes reverses changes brought to the law when import duties for most items were eliminated in late 2011 by the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed ahead of the introduction of a Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Import duty was also eliminated for food items – with a few exceptions such as bananas, mangoes, watermelons, and papaya to protect the local agriculture industry – as well as for construction material, fabrics and garments, paper and books, environment friendly goods, paints, floor coverings, footwear, steel, medicine, medicinal machineries and products, fertilisers, electric vehicles, cosmetic goods and domestic appliances.

During yesterday’s final debate on the government-sponsored amendments, MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party severely criticised the indirect tax hikes, contending that the burden of increased prices of goods would be borne by ordinary citizens.

In a press statement yesterday, newly-appointed Maldives Monetary Authority Governor Dr Azeema Adam predicted a rise in the inflation rate as a result of hiking tariffs.

The central bank previously estimated the inflation rate to hold steady at four percent as global commodity prices were expected to decline this year.

The Maldives Customs Service meanwhile revealed last week that revenue in March increased by 12 percent compared to the same period in 2013 on the back of a 30 percent increase in imports.

“Total revenue collected in March 2014 was MVR 139.7 million, while it was MVR 124.8 million in March 2013,” MCS said in a statement.

“Importation of fuel (such as diesel, petrol and jet fuel) shared 36 percent of total imports in March, twice the value of food items imported during the same period. Third most imported category of goods in March was machinery and electronics which accounted for 15 percent of total imports in March.”

Exports, however, dropped by 65 percent last month compared to the same period last year, which was “linked to the 97 percent reduction in the volume of exports by the state-owned Kooddoo Fisheries Maldives Ltd, whose main export is Frozen Skipjack Tuna to Thailand.”

Customs also revealed that imports in the first quarter of 2014 amounted to MVR7.1 billion, which represented an 11 percent increase compared to the first quarter of 2013.

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