The Caribbean Supermarket Association (CSA) has been formed to help Caricom governments understand the importance of food security.
President of the Supermarket Association of TT and now chairman of CSA Rajiv Diptee said, "This is a private sector-led initiative where we are seeking to find solutions within the value chain to ensure that food security remains a critical priority and create import substitutions strategies for how we see a reduction in the food import bill and make the prices of goods and services more accessible."
Speaking at CSA's launch on Tuesday at Krave Restaurant, Marabella, he said the groups formation came as the economy was in a situation where challenges with shipping costs and foreign exchange were still present and persistent.
Former trade minister Vasant Bharath, now vice chairman of CSA touched on TT's $5 billion import bill.
"Unfortunately, what has happened in the last three years has prompted every government in the Caribbean region to look very seriously at this whole issue of food security and import substitution.
"You only have to take a cursory look at any supermarket in TT and their shelves are packed with probably 85 per cent of imported produce coming out of the Caricom region."
He said there was too much of TT's foreign exchange being used to develop other countries while there were many opportunities regionally.
"I think we have a golden opportunity because of the commitment expressed by the Caricom heads over the last three months that they want to make this happen. And this is a commitment that they made publicly and in Trinidad two weeks ago when they were all here."
He said, though the commitment is present, there are some obstacles to overcome, such as cross-border issues which include finance issues, insurance for farmers, access to market and its facilities.
Bharath added that there was also the issue of goods coming from some islands not being allowed to enter or be cleared in other islands. He explained that if an island wants to grow more rice, not only are the necessary resources needed, but the yields to produce should be able to compete with the market that it was imported from.
"Otherwise, despite the duties that you would pay to bring those produce in, if your yields are not high as theirs then we are not competing equally."
He said there were major issues surrounding the initiative and another prominent one was transportation.
He added that he was happy to be a part of the CSA because it was a private sector organisation that would continue to "light the fire" to ensure that the Caricom governments stick to the commitments made.
Outgoing president of the National Gas Company (NGC) compressed natural gas (CNG) Curtis Mohammed will serve as the executive director of the CSA. He is set to retire next month. Vernon Persad of Persad's 'D' Food King is also a co-founder of the association.