Trinidad, Guyana to partner on food security
The Trinidad and Tobago government says it "is moving to establish" a food facility in collaboration with Guyana.
Finance Minister Larry Howai, delivering Trinidad's TT$58.4 billion budget presentation on Monday, said agricultural lands are becoming less and less available in TT, and that the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration was looking to its fellow CARICOM partner to deal with food security.
Howai said the facility "would commit both governments to expanding agricultural production in Guyana through the establishment of commercial relationships for funding the establishment of several large agricultural estates in Guyana".
In 2005, CARICOM leaders signed on to the Jagdeo Initiative, which was designed to advance the regional transformation of agriculture, ensure the region is food-secure and make the sector competitive.
But Caribbean officials have said that regional harmonisation of policies has been one of several key issues hampering the progress of the initiative.
At their 2009 summit in Guyana, regional leaders reaffirmed their commitment to providing financial and other support measures for agriculture and underscored the importance of agriculture for food and nutrition security and for the development of Caribbean economies.
They also issued a declaration promising to improve the region's agricultural sector.
Howai made no reference to the CARICOM initiatives on Monday, but he said the Trinidad government proposes to reduce its food import bill by 50 per cent or just over TT$2 billion per year by 2015.
"Achieving food security is our top priority. We all recall the global food price shocks in the period 2006-2010 when domestic inflation reached an annual average level of 9.1 per cent compared with an annual average of 4.8 per cent in the period 2001-2005," he told legislators.
"The increased levels of inflation stemming from our increasingly imported food requirements have had a harmful impact on our citizens, particularly our most vulnerable, as they sought to manage the business of their everyday lives," he said.
In that regard, the finance minister proposed the suspension of the value added tax from all food items "except luxury items and alcoholic beverages", as an interim measure.
Howai also warned that another global price shock is on the horizon as drought conditions are devastating commodity crops, in particular corn, in the United States.
"These higher global prices are already generating price increases in Trinidad and Tobago, in particular in the poultry industry," he said, noting that the government would embark on a series of measures to address the situation, among them the food project with Guyana.