Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj is satisfied with the Government’s fiscal allocation to his ministry because he believes it will go a long way to help reduce the food import bill. Maharaj, in an e-mail, said he was confident the resources provided in the budget would help boost the agriculture sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). “Food security remains a top priority of the Ministry of Food Production as well as the People’s Partnership Government. We are committed to reducing the food import bill by 50 per cent as well as increasing agriculture’s contribution to GDP by 2015,” he said. He also said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had mandated an inter-ministerial and inter-agency committee to look into defining which commodities the VAT removal policy would cover. “There remain a tremendous number of items that can be made zero-rated,” he noted,” and there also exist situations of inclusion of a few items within categories but the exclusion of many, example the juice category (orange juice and grapefruit juice to the exclusion of scores of other juice flavours). This also exists with breakfast cereals, sausages, hams, bacon and canned foods.”
He urged farmers to take advantage of opportunities given to them. He added: “This will all be further complemented by a food security facility with Guyana as we establish commercial relationships and agricultural estates with a Caricom partner which possesses an abundance of physical land space. “All registered farmers once again are urged to take full advantage of the Agricultural Incentives Programme.” When the T&T Guardian contacted Maharaj via telephone about the cost of the VAT removal project he said he had to review his files before he could answer. He said he would reveal the cost by tomorrow. Maharaj, however, said consumers could expect to benefit from a 15 per cent price reduction until the final list of VAT-removed items was prepared. These are: Cereals (only cornflakes are zero-rated), pancake mixes, pancake syrups, jams, tea, creamers, flavoured milk drinks, drink mixes, juices (only citrus juices are zero-rated), snacks, cakes, custard powder, canned vegetables, pasta sauces, soups/soup mixes, corned mutton, luncheon meats, canned salmon, vienna sausages, batter/breadcrumbs, pholourie mix, flavoured rice, cake mixes/frosting, essences, canned fruits, fruit cocktail, soya chunks/mixed, soya drinks, instant oatmeal, sweeteners, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, pepper sauce, seasonings, coconut milk powder, massala, salad dressing, olives/capers, relish/dill/pickles, hot chow, french fries, frozen potato, burger patties, sausages/bacon, processed meats, hams/sliced, smoked chicken, smoked turkey, hot dogs, bologna, frozen foods, ice cream, yogurts and desserts.