TT’s deepening foreign exchange shortage requires critical attention, vital resources and sharp focus by the Government.
This is the view of MP for Mayaro Rushton Paray who spoke at a news conference on Sunday at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, Charles Street, Port of Spain.
He also said there is a need to invite skilled and competent experts to join in a bi-partisan national response to the matter.
Paray said some of the solutions were to be found in a reduced food-import bill as well as ensuring that contractors are duty-bound to use certain products made in TT.
As the Opposition’s shadow minister of finance and the economy, Paray said the worsening forex shortage will cost Trinidadians more to put food on their tables.
He said the quality of life for every Trinidadian was becoming worse every month as a result of the shortage.
Paray said TT’s economy is an open one that depends largely on the energy sector to earn foreign exchange.
He said under the People’s National Movement (PNM) administration, the report card in the sector only “reveals catastrophe, crash, collapse and closure.”
He said the energy sector was at its lowest ebb in many decades and the shortage meant there was insufficient money available to import food, medicine and other day-to-day essentials like laptops and clothing.
He added, the lack of the foreign exchange has led to a thriving black market which is “absorbing a sizeable amount of foreign exchange.”
This has also led to importers paying more for goods and services, which also led to higher retail prices, he added.
“In addition, limited forex means supermarkets are being forced to reduce the quantum of their imports to match the availability of foreign currency.”
He said a recent survey by the business community showed that a number of small and medium-sized manufacturers were closing because of the shortage. This meant more and more workers were going on the breadline, he said, and poverty was rampant and worsening in rural TT.
"The failed energy policy decisions of the Rowley administration has put additional pressure on public-sector agencies like even WASA. Since then, much needed US currency which is needed to pay Desalcott has been plugged with the closing of several large industrial customers on the Point Lisas estate."
He said energy giants were bypassing TT and making a beeline for Guyana.
"The situation is similar in every other economic sector. Because TT is rated 105 out of 190 in the ease of doing business matrices, no investor wants to come to this country. They are setting up shop, earning foreign exchange and creating jobs in more investor-friendly countries."
He said TT was on a trajectory of using up its foreign exchange with no immediate intervention from the State to find an opportunity to balance the system and to start earning more.
Foreign reserves are now at $6 billion down from almost $10 billion in 2015 and this was to continue to 2022, he added.
"Since 2015, the year in which the PNM got into national office, the foreign currency value has steadily and dramatically fallen. The Government has blamed the covid19 pandemic for this crisis but the latest Central Bank economic bulletin confirms that the circumstances exist for other reasons, particularly the energy commodity market.
"As of today the Government has not sought to boost this declining market in any way."
He said TT’s food import bill was shockingly above $6 billion each year and every 12 months this money left the country to purchase food stuff produced in other countries.
“In TT with ample arable land and a skilled workforce, appropriate weather and available market our agricultural sector still accounts for less than one per cent of our GDP. Yet again there has been no substantial comment or commitment on behalf of the state to change this trajectory that we are on.”
He said with the lack of foreign exchange and the black market, people can expect shortages of imported food stuff and higher retail prices.
“In other words, it is going to cost each of us more to put food on the table,” Paray said.
He said the Government failed to introduce a local content policy through which foreign contractors “would be duty-bound to utilise certain products made in TT.”
Paray said this was in spite of the announcement in the budget that certain costly capital projects had been approved.
“Such a policy if put in place by the Government would curb the flight of foreign exchange, boost local industry and preserve and create jobs.
“The Government should make it mandatory that local content that meets quality standard must be purchased for public projects.”
Attempts to contact Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat were unsuccessful.