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KINGSTON — The export of scrap metal has been banned totally,  Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton, has announced.

Making the disclosure at a press conference at the Ministry, in New Kingston,   today (July 26), the Minister said Cabinet took the decision to effect the ban at its meeting on  July 25,  and this comes against the background of the widespread pillaging of metal over the past three years, particularly in the last few months, as well as failure by industry stakeholders, despite warnings, to implement measures to help to curb metal theft.

"Noting the correlation between increased demand, high metal prices and the rise in metal theft, Cabinet said it was forced to take the drastic action of imposing the (total)  ban in the national interest, and in order to curb the wanton theft and destruction of valuable property owned and used by legitimate operators,"  the Minister said.

He pointed out that the theft of scrap metal has cost government and the private sector more than $1 billion over the past few years, noting that the latest upsurge in the theft of valuable infrastructure, including train lines and  heritage items, and the disturbance of graves has led to renewed calls for further government intervention to solve the problem.

Dr.  Tufton said that while the government empathised with legitimate scrap metal traders, "what we cannot afford to take place as a government and as a country, is the operation of any economic activity that encourages and facilitates a level of disorder or lawlessness that hinders legitimate law abiding operators from exercising their right to pursue business opportunities."

"This has not been an easy decision. It took some time to deliberate over the issues, because we felt in the Ministry that we needed to get as much information as possible, so that we fully appreciate the nature of the industry, the persons involved and the cost benefit analysis of maintaining the industry," he said.

"Ultimately, at the end of the deliberations, having gotten information from stakeholders involved in the regulation of the industry, including law enforcement and  Customs,  and having looked at examples of countries elsewhere in the world and the problem that they have had, and looking at how legitimate industries have been impacted negatively, and private citizens, the decision was taken that based on a cost benefit analysis, it is better for the economy not to have an industry at this time, than to have one that would lead to the negatives that have been taking place," he said.

Minister Tufton noted, however, that arrangements are to be put in place by the end of the year to allow companies that generate their own scrap metal to apply for special permits in order to get rid of that metal or scrap waste that they generate.

"What we intend to do between now and the end of this year, is to put in place an appropriate mechanism, in consultation with a number of stakeholders – the police, Customs (Department) and other agencies – to establish a legitimate process that would verify and allow for entities that generate scrap to be able to package and export scrap," he said.

On Tuesday, July 19, Dr. Tufton had announced a temporary shutdown of the scrap metal industry and gave instructions that all exporters of scrap metal with inventories on hand must collect their containers from the ports by the latest, Friday, July 22, 2011. These must be packed and returned to the port by July 29. Thereafter, no new scrap metal would be accepted at the port for export.

By Alecia Smith, JIS Reporter