Shoppers wait to cash their items at Penny Savers, Bon Accord on Thursday. PHOTO BY DAVID REID  -
Shoppers wait to cash their items at Penny Savers, Bon Accord on Thursday. PHOTO BY DAVID REID -

Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee Scoon has assured Tobagonians there is no shortage of food in the country in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic (covid19).

She gave the assurance during a news conference on Friday at the Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort, Lowlands.

Gopee-Scoon was part of ministerial delegation which met with members of the Tobago Chamber of Commerce, the Tobago Tourism and Hotel Association and the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), to discuss strategies that can be implemented to mitigate the fallout from covid19.

The team included Minister in the Ministry of Finance Allyson West and Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell.

Sports Minister and Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe, Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles and Health, Wellness and Family Development Secretary Tracy Davidson-Celestine also attended the briefing.

Members of the chamber and hotel association had complained last week that neither the government nor THA had approached them with a view to identifying strategies to sustain their operations during the pandemic. Chamber members did not address Friday's news conference.

Last week, there was a mad rush by Tobagonians to purchase hand sanitisers, food and cleaning items at several supermarkets as word spread about several confirmed cases of covid19 in Trinidad. There were also reports of price gouging at some establishments.

The Division of Finance and the Economy has since said it will take action against against unscrupulous businessmen.

Gopee-Scoon said there is no need to rush to buy food as there is at least a six-month supply of basic items.

She said the Cabinet-appointed committee on business and manufacturing, which met on Wednesday, is charged with the responsibility of ensuring food security, business sustainability and employment sustainability.

"And we can give the assurance that there is no shortage of food supplies in Trinidad and Tobago," she told reporters.

"I can say with certainty that we took a very granular and detailed approach in determining the list of basic food items, what are the quantities in the country at this time, what are the quantities on the water, shooting for overall food security for at least six months."

Gopee-Scoon added: "We are pretty much satisfied that there is food in the country, there is food on the way, at least for the basic items."

She said there will also be foreign exchange support close to the tune of US$100 million to importers and manufacturers requiring input into their food and beverage sectors. This support will be managed by the Exim Bank.

"We are going to be assisting in ensuring that the support is going to be given to the right, particular individuals and businesses that are involved in the importation of food, cleaning supplies and medication, all of which we term emergency supplies, so as to ensure there is the least disruption possible in satisfying the needs of our citizens at this crucial time.

"What I confirmed is there is 2-3 months supply in the country but there are continual shipments on the way and with the foreign exchange intervention of close to $100 million that the Minister of Finance spoke of, it means those persons who would have been restricted from getting more orders....would have their bills to clear. Now that they can clear their bills in the foreign jurisdictions, they can expect to have more orders on the way. So, there is a six months supply of food in the country, generally."

Gopee-Scoon said they have also met with the Customs and Excise Division of the Ministry of Finance, Chemistry Food and Drugs Division and also the plant quarantine services, all of which are involved in terms of expediting border clearances.

"We have the expectation and the satisfaction that they will be doing what is required of them."

The minister said the Port Authority of TT has also assured there will be absolutely be no interruptions in service to Tobago via the port and arrangements with the vessels.

"We have certainty from the Ministry of Transport and from the port that there will be no disruption in the supply of goods to Tobago."

Caribbean Airlines, she said, has also "given us all certainty of arrangements to transport passengers from Tobago to Trinidad and vice versa."

Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles said Tobago also intends to boost its agricultural production of short-term crops, more so in light of covid19.

"What I know is that we will ramp up our production capability particularly at Louis D'or and Goldsborough," he told reporters.

Charles said he also intends to meet with the Agricultural Society, early next week "because it is their members who at the end of the day will have to commit to the production of more food."

Charles said the island's Unemployment Relief Programme has already extended its reach into agriculture.

"We will also ramp up our production of seedlings. We are committed to looking at the whole issue of making some of those seedlings available at tremendously reduced costs not only to farmers but to persons who are interested in backyard gardening, so that you can minimise the impact of covid19 on your ability to feed yourself."

Gopee-Scoon said mega farms will be set-up in Trinidad for short-term crops, initially, to assist in providing more food.



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