TRADE and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon has said Trinidad and Tobago spent approximately $78 million a year over the last three years on the importation of luxury food items. She was responding to a question in the Senate on Tuesday.
Gopee-Scoon recalled that Finance Minister Colm Imbert indicated in his 2021 budget statement in the House of Representatives last October that "the full value added tax (VAT) rate of 12.5 per cent would be applied to a wide range of luxury imported foods, with the intention of reducing the high local demand for luxury foods and subsequently the demand for foreign exchange."
She said the Finance Ministry "is reviewing the list of luxury food items that will come under this initiative.
"It should be noted," she said, "that over the last three years...2018-2020...imports of selected luxury items such as smoked salmon, lobster, grapes, apples, pears, strawberries, peaches other fruits...(were) valued at approximately $78 million per annum, on average."
Gopee-Scoon said increasing domestic food production and export promotion were among the strategies being used to reduce TT's food import bill.
"With the food import bill valued at approximately $5.7 billion per annum, the Government recognises the importance of investing in the expansion of the local agriculture and food and beverage sectors."
She reminded senators there is a $500 million stimulus package for agriculture in the budget.
Gopee-Scoon also said there are currently four tenants at the Moruga Agro-processing and Light Industrial Park, which the Prime Minister opened last July. She said there is a list of ten potential tenants for the park which is currently being reviewed.
On the InvestTT website, the park is advertised as offering leasable space for the growth and expansion of operations in the processing of primarily agro products, and light manufacturing.
As he opened debate on the Finance Bill later in the sitting, Imbert supported Gopee-Scoon's earlier comments on luxury food imports. He said the tax imposition on them does not require any legislative amendment, but can be done by ministerial order and under the VAT Act, and this order would be published in due course.