FIJI AGENCY SAYS WATER EXPORTER DODGING TAXES

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By Ashwini Prasad

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Jan. 17) – Fiji will lose FJ$6 million [US$4 million] in export by the end of this week because of the two-week standoff between the interim government and Natural Waters of Viti Limited.

The American-owned company which produced Fiji Water in Ra, said the Fiji Islands Revenue and Customs Authority had blocked their exports.

We are concerned about the long-term effects of the action on Fijis economy, the company said yesterday.

Each week our product is blocked from leaving the country means more than three million dollars in lost exports for Fiji.

We continue to believe FIRCA is acting on poor advice and speculation based on misinformation about the value of our products and how we run our business.

Fiji Ports Corporation Limited chairman Semi Koroilavesau said the stoppage of Fiji Water consignment affected them.

We lost two shipments and if it continues we will loss another six, he said. Fiji Water is our biggest customer and we lose money from fees and other charges.

Attempts to contact FIRCA chief executive Jitoko Tikolevu and interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry yesterday were unsuccessful. FIRCA said last week the consignment was stopped for valuation purposes because Fiji Water sold its product to its American parent company at or below cost landed in the U.S. at US$4 a carton.

The product is then sold in America for up to US$50 a carton, FIRCA said.

University of the South Pacific academic Professor Biman Prasad said mineral water exports increased significantly in the past three years, from $50 million in 2004 to a projected $100 million in 2007.

I agree that appropriate tax should be paid by exporters, especially those who are doing well but the matter, with respect to Fiji Water, should have been resolved without physically stopping the export because it could damage the reputation of the company and stop potential investors.

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