Lawmakers on Tuesday called on the government to take immediate action to tackle ‘unfair competition’ taking place across the Green Line, as well as clamp down on smuggling from the north.
The matter was discussed at a closed-doors session of the House commerce committee, attended by the commerce and foreign ministers.
In remarks later, committee chair Kyriacos Hadjiyiannis said a frank discussion was held, but he also complained of a major difference of attitude between MPs and the government. The former believe the issue is far more serious than the latter.
But in their comments to the media, lawmakers did not reveal numbers on the scope of the smuggling.
Hadjiyiannis said all parties involved have to tread carefully so as not to give the impression they are questioning the Green Line Regulation itself. Doing so would be counterproductive and potentially damaging, as the regulation had been a “fundamental” condition for the accession of the Republic of Cyprus to the EU.
The Green Line Regulation provides for trade in goods produced in the north.
Likewise, Akel MP Costas Costa clarified that two issues exist, and they are separate. The first is the lack of checks on legitimate trade across the Green Line, which allows sub-standard Turkish Cypriot goods to enter the market in the south, leading to “unfair competition.”
Costa recalled that Cyprus had agreed to the Green Line Regulation, adding that “if we try to change something we risk creating a huge problem, that is, the EU might push what it wanted to do in the first place – a regulation for direct trade [with the north], which would be a disaster for the Republic of Cyprus.
“There indeed exists a serious problem vis a vis competition, especially with products originating from Turkey,” Costa noted.
Disparities in VAT and lack of certification – particularly ‘green certification’ – on products coming in from the north, meant that these products are cheaper than their counterparts in the south.
One problem area concerned construction materials, said by MPs to be of inferior quality – and also less expensive.
MPs urged the government to come back with specific proposals on how to deal with the issue.
The second issue is smuggling via locations other than the legitimate crossing points along the Green Line. The area of Pyla was identified as a major trouble spot.
Some lawmakers called for stiffer penalties on smugglers.
Nationalist party Elam reiterated its demand for the closure of all crossing points.
The party’s Geadis Geadi called it “the apex of absurdity that we are even discussing whether goods produced illegally in our occupied properties [the north] can be legitimately traded.”
He said the Cyprus problem is not a legal issue, but a problem of invasion and occupation.
“Until such time as the crossing points are shut down, we will table a legislative proposal mandating the labeling of all products from the occupied territories, because consumers have the right to know.”