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Lccc To Moa: Help 'flourish' Labuan

Labuan: The Labuan Chinese Chamber of Commerce (LCCC) has urged the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) to assist the government to “flourish” the island’s local economy and not “perish” it with unreasonable rules.

LCCC Chairman Datuk Wong Kii Yii (pic) was referring to MOA decision to go ahead to ban the transshipment of imported rice to Southern Philippines effective Jan 1 despite pleas from local traders.

“We are told that transshipment would only be allowed to those who had obtained Approved Permit (AP) but at the same time none of the Ministry officials had been in Labuan to brief the chamber and others on the guidelines for the application.

“It seems obvious that the Ministry itself seems unprepared yet on how to go about the AP and yet forcing down regulations.” He said MOA should recognise the special position of Labuan, a free-port since British rule and not undermine the privileges the island was entitled to enjoy due to the status by disallowing transshipment when such a trade is expected to be naturally enjoyed by Labuan.

Wong noted that barter trade is a traditional business of the island, the trade had been conducted since 1956 after the island’s free-port status was reinstated after the World War 2. Filipino traders were attracted to Labuan rather than nearer Sandakan port because of tax exemption on imports and exports.

“When barter trade took a downturn it was when Labuan was declared as International Business and Financial Centre in 1990, it was thought that the new status could be the alternative to barter trade to keep local economy throbbing and there were security concerns over barter trade.

“But initial few years impact from the IBFC status had cooled off then came the oil and gas boom. This also lasted only a short few years and seems busted now while tourism industry had also failed to produce desired results, barter-trade is therefore the most reliable contributor to Labuan economy,” said Wong.

He said MOA should take a broad view and recognise this. Banning transshipment will see the trade collapse because rice transshipment is the main activity of the trade “after many years the revival of the trade is securing much to the delight of Labuan traders. Let’s keep it this way.”

A further point for MOA to note was that the trade was under the concept of BIMP-EAGA “of what use in BIMP-EAGA if free trade with neighbour is barred?” asked Wong. He also said the imported rice for export of not suitable quality for Sabah and there was unlikely to be smuggling, moreover, there were enforcement agencies to monitor.

While the MOA is pulling the carpet on barter trade in Labuan Sabah on the other hands will allow even the use of wood-hulled boats to conduct the trade provided these are not against certain marine conditions, the ban on rice shipment would only mean Filipino getting their suppliers for other ports,” concluded Wong. – Sohan Das


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