THE Export Import Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (Eximbank) has been playing its part to ensure that adequate supplies of food, medicine, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other vital commodities could be imported into TT during the covid19 pandemic. Eximbank CEO Naven Dookeran listed the ways the bank has been contributing to the national response against covid19 during a virtual meeting with members of the Public Accounts Enterprises Committee (PAEC) on Wednesday.
In response to questions from Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland, Dookeran said, "When the pandemic began, the Government came out with their covid19 economic response, which covered a number of different areas."
He explained the bank was responsible "for ensuring the successful delivery of foreign exchange to international suppliers for the provision of essential items into the country."
Dookeran added that even up to today, global supply chains continue to be stressed "and there is increased global supply chain risk."
He said the Government identified food, medicine, PPE and other essential items which had to be imported as quickly as possible. Dookeran also recalled that early in the pandemic, international suppliers were only releasing supplies to those entities "who could pay cash" and were not extending credit terms.
"So the Government initially provided a foreign-exchange window for essential supplies to the tune of US$75 million, to meet the suppliers for those essential items."
He said this was for a three-month window at the beginning of the pandemic.
"I am very happy to say that we were able in very short order, within a few weeks, to set up a programme that covers all the food distributors of the country, in terms of all the members of the food distributors; association, the vast majority of the pharmaceutical importers, and to be able to engage with them to provide forex for their purchases."
Dookeran said this programme was restarted last October-December, "totalling over US$150 million," for the 69 companies participating in the programme.
"Food and beverage received US$106 million; medical and pharmaceuticals US$30.4 million; PPE US$12.3 million; cleaning supplies US$1 million; and non-food items (such as light bulbs and batteries) US$440,000."
On Independent Senator Amrita Deonarine's question about the criteria for the 69 companies to access forex from the bank, Dookeran said the bank looked at businesses with established distribution networks and proven track records in delivering the commodities in question.
He said out of the 102 manufacturing companies that applied for foreign exchange, approximately 72 per cent were small companies, 14 per cent medium and 14 per cent large.
In addition to the US$150 million offered by the Eximbank, its chief financial officer Carol Austin said Cabinet approved the allocation of an additional US$100 million to be used to buy essential commodities. Dookeran opined the best "economic vaccine" for companies during the pandemic was finding ways to increase their exports and foreign-exchange-earning capacity.