Who’d have thought that garlic was such a big deal?
Last Friday, Paul Begley, a vegetable importer got six years in jail for evading €1.6 million in import tax due on Chinese garlic, by re-labelling it as apples. It seemed very harsh, with even the trial judge saying that it gave him no joy at all to jail a decent man but Begley had, after all, deprived the public finances of a huge amount of money.
Why did he mislabel the garlic as apples? Simple. Chinese garlic is taxed at 232% compared to 9% for other fruit and vegetables. What’s more, this penal rate of tax is not an Irish thing, but an EU regulation.
Why? At first, I was baffled. Could it be that a secret cabal of vampires is running the European Union?
That looked like a promising line of inquiry until I checked out the tax on sharpened stakes, holy water and crucifixes but no. Stakes and crucifixes are taxed at the normal rates, while holy water is free, so it couldn’t be a vampire-protection measure, even though a secret cabal of vampires really is running the European Union.
What is it then? Well, a quick Google search will tell you that we’re not the only ones trying to crush the Chinese garlic trade.
EUROPA – Press Releases – Chinese garlic smugglers intercepted
EUROPA – Press Releases – Smuggled garlic intercepted in Poland
Swedish Customs targets EU garlic smugglers
Imported garlic smuggled to India straining forex reserve
The Garlic Price Rockets in Europe and Chinese Garlic Is Smuggled
It turns out that the very high tax on Chinese garlic is a trade barrier to prevent European workers and producers losing their livelihoods as a result of predatory trading.
What’s actually happening is that Chinese producers are growing garlic using subsistence labour, with no regard to environmental concerns or any sort of worker safety. Farmers in Europe, who have to comply with regulations, can’t compete and are going out of business thanks to the flooding of the market by the cheaply-produced bulb. The Chinese are distributing their garlic worldwide using local importers like Mr Begley, who are happy enough to disregard the consequences for European workers, presumably because they can make healthy profits.
It’s strange how feelings can swing. At the start, I was bemused and baffled at the treatment of an honest businessman, but by the time I had finished reading the back story, I found myself with little or no sympathy for Mr Begley who, it turns out, is just another scammer looking for a fast buck.