I have noted with concern an article written by Shaliza Hassanali of the Sunday Guardian entitled “VAT OFF FOOD FLOPS”.
I wish to put on record the facts as it pertain to the image of Local Food Production and Supply. Data coming out of the Central Statistical Office shows that for the first quarter of 2013 Food Price Inflation slowed to single digits reaching 9.4 per cent in April for the first time since October 2011.
This significant deceleration in food prices is as a direct result of strategic policy initiatives of the Ministry of Food Production that included the strengthening of the enabling environment for the increase in domestic supply of some food items as well as the removal of VAT. This has resulted in a slowdown in the food prices of vegetables and meat with slight declines in the prices of fruit, milk, cheese and eggs. Indeed, the second quarter analysis of the national budget shows that the deliberate policy initiatives of the Ministry of Food Production have resulted in the 2.6 per cent SIGNIFICANT GROWTH in the agriculture sector.
As such, it is my considered view that the report can only be interpreted as promoting primary mischief as it does not pertains to the supply of food stuff on the domestic market. The mischievous report fails to point out that many of the food items exhibiting extraordinarily high prices were those food items that were imported from external markets.
The prices of these imported food items, which includes snacks, curry, baby items, sugar, peas and beans, dairy products and juices, are controlled by a small merchant class. This ‘comprador class’ has been charged by many stakeholders, including the Supermarket Association of Trinidad and Tobago, of irrationally jacking up prices at their whim and fancy in a predatory fashion.
As such I have approached my colleague, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Investment with the intent to investigate and take the appropriate action to correct this unethical practice.
I therefore implore all food importers to become more patriotic and support government’s initiatives to reduce food prices for the benefit of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago especially women and children.