BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor — Special Assignment email@example.com
SHAUN Bailey, special advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron, yesterday said he does not foresee any immediate resolution to the Air Passenger Duty (APD) dispute, despite lobbying efforts by Caribbean tourism interests to have London reverse the controversial travel tax applied to the airfare of passengers flying to this region.
Bailey, while pointing out that the issue did not fall under his portfolio as advisor on youth and crime issues, said he would be very surprised if the matter was dealt with quickly.
"How effective the lobby is, is like anything in politics -- what's on the other side, and how effective is the European lobby. Britain is weathering a financial storm, so every time you take a penny out you have to convince the Chancellor you are doing the right thing," Bailey said.
Regional governments have been lobbying Britain to remove the tax, which was introduced as an environmental tariff aimed at offsetting aviation's carbon footprint.
But the tax has been negatively affecting the growth of the tourism industry here as the Caribbean has been placed in a band that makes travel to the region much more expensive than travelling from London to the United States.
Bailey, who was a guest at this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange held at the newspaper's head offices in Kingston, said it would require, almost the rest of the world to push for a successful lobby.
"Because in Europe, Britain has got a lot of really big issues that it has to deal with before it gets to that (APD)," he said.
But Jamaican art enthusiast Theresa Roberts, who was also a guest at the Exchange, expressed optimism that the matter could get some much-needed attention some time soon.
"I did talk to the chancellor about this issue, and he said he has noted it," Roberts said.
She said she intends to follow up with him on the matter, given the level of concerns being raised by members of the Jamaican community.
"The Caribbean might be lucky because of the amount of lobbying from the Caribbean, and I know they (UK) know it's unfair, so I am optimistic really," she said.
Bailey said the chancellor's response of having noted the matter does bring some weight to the situation.
This, he said, means the Government will have a look at the legal implications of reversing the decision, and if it is even possible.
Bailey said the Caribbean lobby can have some bearing on the situation, hence the importance of continued lobbying on the issue to keep the Caribbean and Jamaica on the political agenda in Britain.
"I would argue that in the Caribbean, because of the link of The Queen and the Commonwealth, it is an important political thing... so there is a fight to be had, and I think the fight should be had," Bailey said.
Last November, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, in responding to concerns raised by Caricom on the controversial tax, noted that it was introduced primarily to raise revenue to tackle the deficit in the United Kingdom.
"In your letter you recognise the fiscal challenge that the UK faces, and so I hope you will understand that the Government remains focused on tackling the deficit in order to protect the UK economy from global instability and secure sustainable long-term growth. Air passenger duty makes a vital contribution to the public finances, and it is important that revenues from the duty are maintained," Osborne was quoted as saying.
A new report which was commissioned by British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair, and Virgin Atlantic airlines has said that scrapping the APD could generate 60,000 jobs by 2020 while boosting gross domestic product by almost one per cent.
The study by the four major airlines estimates the economy would be £16 billion better off by 2015 were the APD scrapped.