Lotus All Purpose Flour

A customer examines a pack of Lotus All Purpose Flour yesterday, at JTA Supermarket, C3 Centre, near Corinth, San Fernando.

—Photo: DEXTER PHILIP

Trinidad and Tobago is in the bottom 10 per cent of 125 countries in terms of consumption of wheat, the raw material that is used to produce flour, according to the data portal IndexMundi.

The data website estimates that T&T will rank 114th of 125 countries for wheat consumption in 2022, based on information sourced from the US Department of Agriculture.

China is the largest consumer of wheat in the world, the EU second, India ranks third, the Russian Federation ranks fourth and the United States ranks fifth in the world.

In the region, Cuba is ranked 68, the Dominican Republic is ranked 85, Haiti is ranked 88, Jamaica is ranked at 105, Guyana is ranked 123 and Barbados is ranked 124.

Humming Bird Rice Mills, a privately-owned company, ceased production in 2020, leaving T&T as a duopoly for flour production.

Last week, T&T’s two flour producers raised prices in the face of external factors- the Russia/Ukraine war- affecting the price of wheat.

Majority State-owned National Flour Mills Limited (NFM) announced a 33 per cent increase in the wholesale price of flour, with a suggested increase averaging 28 per cent on the retail price of flour.

The day after, Nutrimix announced that it would apply a 10 to 33 per cent increase in the prices for its Country Pride and Nutrimix Premium Grade brands effective June 27.

An industry profile on the milling sector in T&T done in April and presented to the Ministry of Trade, noted the annual wheat import volume for both companies is approximately 107,000 metric tons (mt) valued at US$55.53 million (TT$372.2 million). NFM is estimated to have imported US$32.5 million of the commodity, for the period January 1, 2021 to January 31, 2022. Nutrimix spent US$23.03 million on its wheat imports for the period. The total amount of flour produced from the 107,000 metric tonnes of wheat imported was approximately 83,000 metric tonnes.

The study noted that while wheat import volumes are 62 per cent for NFM and 38 per cent for Nutrimix, the domestic retail market for flour is shared 51 per cent and 49 per cent, respectively.

It noted that neither mill produces flour from Durum wheat used to manufacture pasta, and approximately 7,500 mt of Durum semolina is imported annually -TT$23.71 million for 2021- and this flour (HS 1101.0010) is zero per cent duty.

“Both NFM and Nutrimix have a long history of purchasing grain and milling flour and animal feed. Both companies are members of the Caribbean Millers Association. There is a healthy collaboration that takes place as it relates to the sharing of grain and even equipment parts to promote business continuity and ensure food security in Trinidad and Tobago.

“Due to the complexity of the supply chain management in producing flour, neither company would be capable of keeping the market supplied in the short term should the other player drop out of the market.

“Both NFM and Nutrimix have secured grain elevation and freight at significant premiums. Presently, there are no offers from any US grain elevators for combo vessels, which are used by small international players like NFM and Nutrimix. NFM has secured elevations up to the end of August, and Nutrimix up to the end of November, and their shipments are projected to arrive late half May (booked in December 2021), late half July (booked in Feb 2022), and first-half October (booked in March 2022). However, these bookings will be cancelled should either company not be able to make payments when the said bookings become due.

“The cost of a shipment of grain has now doubled from what it was in late 2020, and early 2021 and each company is required to carry higher inventories to ensure either does not run out,” the study said.

The study noted that flour and its related products are staple ingredients in the everyday diet of the average citizen of Trinidad and Tobago as inputs in various dishes, including bread, doubles, roti, fry, and roast bake.

“It has traditionally been an affordable essential food item that can be stretched to feed many across all income levels. Any shock in the unavailability of this commodity will result in considerable strain for all consumers, particularly those in the middle and low-income brackets who rely heavily on this product in their daily diet,” it noted.

“Our vibrant baking sector, cereal, confectionery, noodles, biscuits, crackers, wafers and cones, dry mixes (including baking powder), confectionery, and snacks manufacturers are all dependent on locally produced flour,” it said.

It noted that the local feed manufacturing companies, which provide animal feeds for the broilers, layers (table eggs), ducks, swine, dairy, livestock, and other animals are dependent on wheat middlings/bran (a by-product from wheat milling), as raw materials.

In addition, both NFM and Nutrimix supply approximately 24,000 mt of this product as a local feed ingredient.

The study noted that over the last 14 years, there was only one price increase ranging from 8-20 per cent to flour prices in T&T in January 2022.

“The industry is highly competitive, locally and regionally, with Caricom mills situated in Jamaica (two mills), Belize, Barbados, Grenada, St

Vincent, Suriname, Guyana and Haiti (two mills). Consumers in T&T continue to receive the lowest prices in the region,” it said.

The study noted that both NFM and Nutrimix have vigorously pursued opportunities for exporting their products; however, Article 164 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC) is intended to promote the development of industries in the Lesser Developed Countries (LDCs) CARICOM, comprising the OECS Member States and Belize.

“The LDC States have suspended community origin treatment and imposed duties since mid-2018 on imports of identical products originating from More Developed Countries (MDCs). Essentially, T&T manufacturers, as a member of the MDC, face duties on applicable exports to these countries, with flour attracting 70 percent duties. Despite this, exports of flour amounted to USD$ 1.0 million in 2021. The CET for the non-Caricom origin of wheat flour in T&T is 25 per cent,” it said.

The study noted that NFM and Nutrimix import generally two wheat types (HS 1001.91.00 and 1001.99.00) directly from the US (91 per cent) and Canada (9 per cent).

To deal with rising inflation, Central Banks around the world have made adjustments to their interest rates.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had projected that there will be significant inflationary pressures around the world with developing economies being the most vulnerable.

It had projected inflation to reach 8.7 percent for 2022 for developing nations but revised the inflation projection to 11.5 per cent after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Two week ago, the Fed lifted benchmark interest rates three-quarters of a percentage point ( 0.75 per cent), the third time for the year thus far and largest since 1994.

Last week, the CBTT opted to maintain the country’s repo rate from 3.5 per cent, the rate its been since March 2020.

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