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May 28, 1999

Used car dealers angry over duty increases

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Used Car dealers who sell by the BelChina Bridge say they will be requesting a meeting with the Prime Minister, who is also Minister of Finance, over what they consider to be unfair valuation of the vehicles they bring into Belize. They are hot under the collar because this week the Customs Department began enforcing a policy that no vehicle — no matter how badly damaged — can have more than 40 percent taken off its blue book, or NADA, value when duty is being calculated. The car dealers say this is unnecessarily harsh since the only way they can afford to bring cars is to purchase “crash cars” at auctions or from insurance companies in the United States. They say if they have to pay more in duty this will drive up their costs, which already include parts and paint to repair the cars, and the body shop. The small dealers, who may only bring one car at a time, also have to pay 800 dollars a year in licenses and insurance, say things are already so slow it can take months to sell a single car, and higher duty will force them to reduce the number of cars they can bring. They believe the policy is being enforced because of pressure from the larger, new automobile and truck dealers, who some speculate intend to get into the used car market. Although none of the dealers at the BelChina Bridge would comment on camera, Donald McKay, who sells cars at the City Center told us he is angry. He says when he arrived back in Belize on Monday with a car he was told of the valuation limit which increased the duty he had to pay. He was forced to borrow over a thousand dollars to make up the difference.

Donald McKay, Car Dealer

“One time they told us that they would charge for what we bought the car for. If they had told us that we wouldn’t have bought. Now if you don’t have the money to take out your vehicles you have to borrow and when you do sell your vehicle you have to pay so you have nothing. It’s unfair to us small dealers who are trying to make it. Whoever did it is wrong because they are taking away from us small guys.”

Sources tell News Five that the 40 percent limit on the valuation is not a new regulation, but that it was not being enforced and this latest move is intended to curb abuses and cut down on the large number of crashed and damaged vehicles being imported. A valuation officer at customs told us he estimates that over the past two weeks as many as 80 percent of the vehicles they viewed at the port were salvaged. He said that unlike other goods entering the country which are valued depending on the price paid by the importer, vehicles are checked against a NADA book and then adjustments made at the discretion of the customs officer. While he would not comment on the official reasons the Valuation Department was given for the enforcement of the 40 percent ceiling, he believes it was due to the perception that valuation officers were being too generous in their valuations and charging too little duty to certain dealers.

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