Food

Attz: Food prices open agriculture conversation

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UWI economist Dr Marlene Attzs. -
UWI economist Dr Marlene Attzs. –

UWI economist Dr Marlene Attz said the issue of rising food prices opens the door to the related issue of boosting domestic agriculture.

She welcomed signals by Government to include the private sector even more in national development and said the pandemic underscores the need for a better structured economy going forward.

Attz raised these points during a virtual UWI Economics Department post-budget forum on Thursday.

Referring to comments made by Finance Minister Colm Imbert about food prices during and after his 2022 budget presentation in the House of Representatives on Monday, Attz questioned Trinidad and Tobago’s ability to meet UN Sustaimable Development Goal (SDG) Number Two, on food security.

“We consume things that we do not produce and replace things that we do not consume. The fact that we are importing all the food that we consume, or most of the food that we consume..and also importing them at higher prices..and then you add to that the shortage of foreign exchange.”

Attz said she recently spoke with Supermarkets Association president Rajiv Diptee, who told her about increased shipping costs.

While all of this could be passed on to consumers through higher food prices, Attz said, “There is an opportunity for us having a conversation around food prices…to have a meaningful conversation about agriculture.”

On Monday, Imbert proposed to expand the list of basic food items exempted from Value Added Tax (VAT). In a subsequent statement on Wednesday, Imbert said the list of food items from which VAT will be removed includes instant coffeee, peanut butter, cereals, canned beans, fresh juice, chicken lunch meats and bottled water.

Imbert also observed incorrect comments by some people about certain foods which were not VAT-free. As an example, he said corned beef is the only canned meat which does not attract VAT.

On Monday, Imbert also announced a $300 million allocation to the agriculture stimulus fund he announced in last year’s budget. The allocation to the fund at that time was $500 million.

Attz welcomed fiscal measures aimed at encouraging greater private-sector investment and involvement in national development. She referred to the reduction in the tax rate to encourage development in manufacturing as an example.

“Government can’t be all things to all persons.”

Reiterating there must be meaningful steps to improve the ease of doing business in TT, Attz said the measures announced by Imbert could set the stage for this.

While welcoming aid to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) recover from the economic effects of the covid19 pandemic, Attz suggested a clearer definition of the types of SMEs be done. She said this could help create an architecture tailored to suit the needs of the small to large businesses within this broad category.

Attz was uncertain whether TT or the rest of the world is seeing any light at the end of the tunnel just yet where the pandemic is concerned.

She said there needs to be ashift away from the traditional heavy reliance of the economy on the energy sector. She added the economy which should be developed is a covid19-adjusted one.

UWI International Relations Institute lecturer Dave Seeratan said Government’s development plans pre-2020 would have had to be altered as as result of covid19. He also said Government did not have an option besides borrowing in order to help keep the economy on an even keel during the pandemic.

While TT has better fiscal space to operate within compared to other countries in the region. Seeratan said careful planning is necessary with respect to revenues and expenditure going forward.

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