Cigarette Co. Ends Colombia Imports
Jun. 29, 1999
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Philip Morris announced Tuesday that it would stop importing Marlboro cigarettes to Colombia, citing tariffs it called arbitrarily high.
The Colombian government, for its part, accused the tobacco giant of declaring a value for the popular cigarette brand five times lower than its price in the United States, the country of origin.
In a news release, Philip Morris said it could not export cigarettes from the United States while they continue to be subject to tariffs ``based on inflated values'' that Colombia's customs agency began imposing in 1996.
The company said its decision would not affect other products it sells in this Andean nation.
Philip Morris said it had won 6 percent of the Colombian market since it began importing Marlboro cigarettes in 1991.
It claimed the tariffs set by the customs agency, or DIAN, were both illegal in Colombia and violated the GATT international trade agreement.
DIAN spokesman Henry Guarin said Philip Morris had quietly suspended imports a month ago to protest DIAN's insistence on valuing a pack of Marlboro cigarettes at $1.27 while the company declared a value of 24 cents a pack.
``At the moment, they are negotiating that price with DIAN to see if they can reach a compromise,'' he said.
Even if Philip Morris halts the legal imports, however, Marlboro cigarettes are not apt to disappear from Colombia.
An estimated 70 percent of the Marlboro cigarettes sold in the country are contraband, said Guarin.
Importing contraband cigarettes, typically from the Caribbean island of Aruba, is a popular way for Colombian drug traffickers to launder money.
In a series of raids on June 10, Colombian authorities seized 130,000 packs of contraband Marlboro, according to DIAN.