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LONDON – Jamaica's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (UK), His Excellency Anthony Johnson, has called for a total scrapping of Britain’s Air Passenger Duty (APD).

Mr. Johnson said Wednesday March 23 that, while the British government’s decision to delay the increase in the duty represented temporary relief for travellers to Caribbean destinations, scrapping the tax would have a more significant impact on Caribbean tourism.

Britain’s Chancellor of Exchequer, George Osborne, confirmed Wednesday that the increase, which was due to take effect next month, has been frozen by one year. He however warned that the delay could mean a bigger increase next year.

APD is an excise duty paid by airline passengers using UK airports. Caribbean Governments are concerned about anomalies in how the APD is structured, such as flights to the Caribbean attracting higher tax than flights to parts of the United States which are further away.  Caribbean tourism and government officials, including Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Hon. Bruce Golding, and Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, have had meetings with British ministers on the matter.   

Although the tax has not been taken off the books, as was hoped by some campaigners, the delay will allow time for a review.

“We hoped we could replace the per passenger tax with a per plane tax. We have tried every possible option, but have reluctantly had to accept that all are currently illegal under international law, Mr. Osborne explained.

He added that his Government would work with others to try to get the law changed. In the meantime, he said that they are consulting on how to improve the existing “and rather arbitrary” bands that appear to believe that the Caribbean is further away than California.

“We will also seek to bring private jets, which pay no duty at all, into the scope of taxation. The wealthiest should not escape the tax the ordinary holiday maker has to pay,” the Chancellor said.

He also noted that the decision to delay this year’s increase was based on cost pressures being faced by families, following last year’s hefty rise.

High Commissioner Johnson said he hoped that the delay in the tax rise would help to keep Jamaica’s tourism sector buoyant.

“This is good news for tour operators, and all players in our tourism sector. Significant increases in airfares, at this time, would have hurt the industry. It is also good news for the UK Jamaican Diaspora. Families travelling home to Jamaica have already been feeling the strain, and this decision will keep the pressure off, for a while,” he said.

He suggested that what was important now, was to continue the dialogue, and move forward towards a permanent solution that is fair and equitable, and will make travel to Jamaica and the Caribbean a more affordable experience.

                                                                   

By ANDREW CLUNIS