|$1.2B CHICKEN BLL |
By SEAN DOUGLAS Sunday, January 17 2016
Each year the population spends $1.2 billion on chicken to eat, revealed Agriculture Minister, Clarence Rambarath, speaking in last Friday’s Senate debate on the Finance Bill 2016 to impose 12.5 percent value-added tax (VAT) on non-essential foodstuffs.
Speaking later to Sunday Newsday, Rambarath revealed that this chicken consumption by the country’s million-plus population is equivalent to 40 million birds, or 66 million kilogrammes of meat.
From 80 to 85 percent of local demand is supplied by local production, with about 15 percent being supplied by foreign imports, he added. Rambarath had told the Senate that the population each year eats 140 million eggs.
Rambarath said the local poultry industry is a big employer of persons, as he cited 1,600 workers at the Arawak Chicken Plant many of whom he said are women and/or single mothers, plus employees of some 2,500 pluck shops dotted across the country, and contract farmers.
Saying he has dusted off several past reports in his Ministry, he vowed to set standards for the industry including foreign imports so as to create a level- playing field in which local producers can compete.
He complained that in the past five years imported chicken from the United States that has passed its 180-day shelflife was now imported into TT to compete unfairly with local produce. He alleged a massive “food fraud” by which chicken was mislabelled so as to get onto TT’s supermarket shelves.
Earlier he clarified that many food-staples will remain VATfree as the definition of zero- rated items includes “unprocessed food of any kind used for human consumption.” Rambarath advocated the consumption of local vegetables, fruits and unprocessed foods, rather than processed, imported foods.
He scoffed at the former People’s Partnership (PP) government’s past of trying to half the food import bill, while cutting VAT from 7,000 items to reduce the price of imported foodstuffs (and make them more affordable to the buyer.
The Minister hit his predecessors and gave his plans for several sub-sectors.
Regarding livestock, he alleged high-living by the Livestock Board under the former administration but with two milk-pasteurisation plants each costing $1 million both non-functional today. “The Ministry has got no record of the purchase and tendering for that plant. No dairy farmer has ever been able to see a litre of milk at that Pasteurisation Plant.” Rambarath hit the former regime for interfering with farmers’ livelihood by replacing the Cocoa and Coffee Board by a new entity, which he vowed to now amend so as to include on its board representatives of farmers and the Agricultural Development Bank.
Saying coconuts are now being hailed as a “wonder food”, he hit the PP for not having planted a single coconut tree, as he vowed to revitalise that industry.
Describing TT’s honey as “a national treasure”, he bemoaned that without consultation the PP administration had amended the law to allow the import of honey, but undermined the local honey makers.
“You’ll see things looking like honey and you’ll see the prices are significantly lower than local honey,” he related.
Revealing that cassava is now imported to TT, he accused the former PP Government of destroying a 1,000 acre cassava farm that had employed 50 single mothers.
Likewise he accused the former regime of now having the rice sector in disarray. Regarding farmers’ requests for land regularisation, he said nothing was done under the former regime but that he will act.
The PP government had spent $60 million on the Guayaguayare depot but to date not one fish had been landed there, as he vowed to set that right.
He ended by urging listeners to buy local.