Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon has said the first meeting of the Anti-Illicit Trade Task Force’s working group on tobacco will take place on Monday.
Speaking at the ribbon-cutting and recommissioning of the secondary manufacturing plant at the West Indian Tobacco Company (Witco), Champs Fleurs, on Friday, Gopee-Scoon said the working group would estimate the current level of illicit trade in tobacco in TT, identify enablers of illicit trade locally, review the current level of taxation and its potential to incentivise illicit trade nationally, and develop recommendations for execution to combat illicit trade in tobacco in TT.
“TT has seen a rise in the presence of illegally traded consumer goods such as tobacco, alcohol, and cleaning agents on the local market. In addition to implementing the recommendations of the working group, the ministry will also launch a nation-wide awareness campaign at the end of the month, aimed at improving consumer identification of illegal goods and building awareness of the impact of illicit trade on our local businesses and potential health risks to consumers.”
Witco managing director Laurent Meffre said the company was reassured by the measures taken by the ministry and the government to abate the escalation of illicit trade in all forms through the formation of the task force.
He said the recommissioning of Witco’s secondary manufacturing facility cost $85 million and was accompanied by upskilling of its labour force. He also announced the company's new corporate tagline, A Better Tomorrow.
“Witco has been in operation in TT for 116 years and directly employs 201 people. Regionally British American Tobacco Group directly employs an additional 150 staff across Caricom, and thousands more in our distribution network across the region. Our manufacturing operations continue to use integrated work systems tool as a major enable of improvements and capabilities. The systems promote employee ownership and a zero-loss mentality, and our operations and factory staff have certainly met the challenge head-on. As a revenue generator, a net earner of forex, and responsible employer and corporate citizen with a focus on sustainability and national development, we do care about the future of this country and its revival.”
Meffre said 54 per cent of Witco’s manufactured volume is exported regionally and generates US$20 million annually.
Gopee-Scoon said Witco currently services 17 Caricom markets and associate countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands. She said the installation of this new equipment will now position the company to be a contingent supplier to South and Central America.
Manufacturing manager Taran Persad said Witco remained committed to innovation and the introduction of new products which provides both value and satisfaction.
“The equipment upgrades which will fall squarely in the category of enhanced consumer value in our product offerings will allow us to revolutionise our brands, our portfolio, and our formats in alignment with global trends and will enable us to offer the consumer more value for money. Coupled with an upskilled, committed and well-poised operational team, the upgrades will serve to bolster our capabilities as a key and sustainable manufacturing source.”
Persad said the factory will now produce a larger sized cigarette in some brands.
“The purpose of this transformation is in line with global trends. The regular size, which is the smaller one, will now be longer. The smaller ones are basically obsolete, I think we’re one of the last markets to have them, as most factories have gone with the longer cigarettes. The new one is XL or super king size.
“Basically through the boom years, we were able to capitalise but now disposable income has lessened and we have to give back. We have more competitors coming in and we really want to keep our local and regional markets so this is one of the ways we’re attempting to do that.”
Meffre said while official figures on consumption and revenue had not yet been released, the pandemic has had a negative effect.
“With all the restrictions, and entertainment and other places being closed for 18 months, a lot of consumer moments has been lost, and it has had an effect on consumption with the market, and we’ve also seen an in-flow of illicit and cheap imports that have had a negative effect.”
Witco also unveiled the new cigarette packaging with health warnings during a tour of the factory.