Covid-19 has been affecting the world’s economy and, by extension, its state of depression. Our economy in Trinidad and Tobago is dependent on oil and gas which is at a low price and production at present.
The other effects Covid-19 is having on our nation are closure of businesses, shortened workdays in the Government organisations, mandatory wearing of masks by all citizens, social distancing, low production of food, resulting in shortages of certain types of food. Not forgetting the restrictions of large gatherings for church services, weddings, funerals, sports, etc.
We are hearing calls from bright economists, politicians to devalue the US dollar. Have we taken into consideration the country’s US dollar debt total?
T&T imports a large part of the basic foods we eat (rice, wheat, sugar, potatoes, onions, garlic, meats, dairy products—cheese, milk, fats, corn for animals, peas and beans—dry and brine tins, cooking oil, salt, ghee, tea, meat in brine, base products for manufactured goods, medicines, technologies, computers, security systems, condensed milk, salt fish, all meats, beef, goat, lamb, cow heel, sardines and all fish in tins and brine, and many more. These items cannot be produced now or in the near future locally.
A good example to put this into perspective is the purchase of red beans, black-eye beans and sugar, which at present we source from Belize; and as a result of Covid-19, the government in Belize instructed their farmers to stop exporting these products to save them for their local consumption.
We now must look outside the Caricom region and pay 40 per cent duty for items which are free from taxes in Caricom.
Can you imagine if we make a mistake and devalue the US dollar?
All basic foods will double in price and the effects on middle, lower and unemployed income households will be a disaster.
The good thing is that both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance agreed that the devaluing of the US dollar is not being considered at present.
So, please, all you economists and bright politicians, please reconsider your call and look at devaluation from a holistic point of view, as the devaluation of the US dollar will result in an increase in the cost of living, making food unaffordable.
What can be options and suggestions for the protection of our forex?
Diversification. A committee should be implemented immediately to identify what are considered luxury items and implement a surcharge on these items. We must encourage and teach our fellow Trinbagonians to eat what we grow.
Importation of items like potato chips, biscuits, apples, grapes, breads, cakes, and ice-creams, etc, should have an added surcharge, and we should encourage our citizens to use cassava, sweet potato, plantains and breadfruit chips.
Also, additional surcharges should be included for all foreign-brand restaurants for payments on their franchises.
More so, we must encourage consumers to support local businesses, of which they will be a direct beneficiary and, by extension, T&T.
We can use our neighbours Venezuela as an example, whose economy was greatly affected by the food shortage, which resulted in mass migrations.
Some other ideas which can be considered as support for the middle- and lower-income households.
With the expected increases on gas, T&TEC, WASA and other living expenses, I beg that the Government consider removing VAT and taxes on the food items listed below:
2. granulated sugar
3. water: bottled water
4. juices: fruit juices
5. beverages: mauby con-
6. oils: cooking oil; cook
ing- oil (soya); cooking oil
7. soups: soup; ramen soup
8. salted meat: salted pork,
pig tails, pork ribs, pork
9. processed meats: smoked
chicken, smoked turkey,
boneless hard, turkey breast
10. canned meats: tuna, vi-
enna sausages, chicken
breast, corned turkey/mut-
11. canned peas: red beans,
channa, pigeon peas, baked beans
12. filled milk: condensed
milk, filled milk
13. condiments: ketchup
barbecue sauce, mustard,
14. coffee: ground coffee;
15. teas: green tea
16. Cow Brand ghee—used
for religious ceremonies,
sweets and foods
17. Apart from food items,
all security items.
In response to the business sector, I would like to suggest that the present corporation taxes be reduced to assist them with more accessible funds to increase their expansions and employment.
A good example that we can use as a model is the reduction of taxes implemented by US President Donald Trump in 2015, which assisted their depressed economy, resulting in a drastic improvement over the years following. Their government also got their banks to reduce interest rates, which contributed towards the re-engineering of the US economy.
I hope the Prime Minister and, by extension, the Government, considers my suggestions. It was mentioned that this problem is everybody’s business, and everyone must be on board.