Bands debate Carnival costume taxes
By Sasha Harrinanan Thursday, January 31 2013
THE debate continues about whether or not taxes should be imposed on imported Carnival costumes. Arguments made by the bands leaders of two large Mas bands clearly illustrated the divide. Trini Revellers’ David Cameron told Business Day although much of their raw materials are imported, the band has always used local talent to put together their costumes.
We took a deliberate decision when we formed the band in 1999 to assemble all of our costumes locally. This keeps most of the money in Trinidad while providing a source of income for local craftsmen.”
According to Cameron, a surcharge on imported costumes has to be “just right” — providing an incentive to bands to hire local producers while not being “so exorbitant” that it ends up crippling those bands who can’t afford to pay the sometimes higher costs of locally manufactured costumes.
“We don’t want to make it impossible for bands who favour imported costumes to participate in Carnival. What we are trying to do is give local artisans a fighting chance on the price of their services while helping to preserve our Mas-making traditions,” Cameron stated.
Fellow large band, YUMA (Young Upwardly Mobile Adults), imports its bra pieces and belts already embellished from agents in the United States, who in turn usually source the items from manufacturers in China and India.
YUMA’s Director/Bandleader, Edmund Seon, said it would be unreasonable to make bands pay a surcharge/tax when there aren’t enough local producers to meet the demand come Carnival time.
“Why must I pay a penalty for a shortage of good producers in Trinidad? The big bands in Port-of-Spain usually have in excess of 2,500 people. If you could get one producer to make 2,500 costumes, hats off to you. It’s a chicken and egg situation, in that you have to start training new producers to meet the demand, but whose initiative should this be? Band leaders or Government?” Seon declared.
Another reason YUMA and other bands import partially embellished costumes is the cost-savings. One shipment equals one set of duties charged by Customs at the port.
“Whereas if you bring in a plain bra and the embellishments required,” Seon explained, “you have to pay duties on both then pay a local producer to make the finished product. Say you order material for 100 bras, you’ll have to have extras for any mistakes or adjustments. Whatever material remains after wastage is a cost borne by the band. However, if you import embellished bras, all of these cost falls on the producer and you pay a flat price.”
YUMA, now in its third year as a Mas band, has always sought to “nurture young designers”, this year alone working with three new people. Seon noted though, the band still has to rely on partial imports to meet demand and deadlines for costume collection.
“In the PoS area, there are 15 - 20 producers that bands deal with. What you find happening, especially when you have a short season like this, somebody will be left behind. The rest of the year, only one or two producers are active and that’s usually for bands outside of Trinidad whose Carnivals take place at other times of the year.” Seon told Business Day he looked forward to producing all of YUMA’s costumes locally in the not too distant future.
“I have a couple of producers who we work with closely, year in, year out and they start with us from April of the year before each Carnival — drawing and building prototypes. In about two or three years I think YUMA will be doing producing our costumes locally because we are trying to encourage young people to get involved in Carnival beyond playing Mas on the road.”
Ultimately, Seon called for a compromise approach to solving the shortage of talented costume producers - in-house mentoring at Mas bands and a national design/production course “because this is a good business. Once people could see the value in what they do, I think a lot of people would get into it.”