Review by Kevin Baldeosingh
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UWI economist on high food imports: Redeploy Cepep workers to boost agriculture
Senior lecturer and co-ordinator of the Trade and Economic Development Unit at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Dr Roger Hosein is calling for the reallocation of 80 per cent of the workforce of Cepep to agriculture to ease chronic labour shortages in that sector.
He was speaking yesterday at a Financial Planning: Budget and Inflationary Measures Workshop hosted by the Institute of Banking and Finance at the headquarters of the T&T Chamber of Commerce in Port-of-Spain.
Hosein, who took part in a panel discussion moderated by Hayden Blades, president of Business Insight Limited, said excess labour in programmes such as Cepep should be redeployed to the agricultural sector to reduce the country’s high import bill and stem food price driven inflation.
“If our agricultural imports have moved from $1 billion in 2002 to about $6.5 billion now, it makes good sense to try to increase supply domestically, but the problem is one of a resource constraint,” he said.
On the issue of food price inflation, Hosein highlighted the link between agricultural supply and labour bottlenecks.
“If one looks at the domestic inflation rate, the main driver behind the increase in inflation is agricultural prices. Increasing agricultural supply will have the effect of reducing food prices and to achieve this requires unlocking labour resources from other sectors and bringing them into agriculture,” he said,
Hosein also suggested that the state downsize its participation in the local labour market via programmes such as Cepep and create more opportunities for public-private sector partnerships.
He said: “If the state continues to produce a parallel employment opportunity no one will leave the state sector to go into the agricultural sector to work. Now is the time for companies that benefitted in the boom period to invest in the local economy.”
Hosein said the local business environment can be enhanced by reducing crime, building entrepreneurship through training by academic institutions and developing industrial parks to better facilitate industry creation.
Other panelists at the workshop were Sana Ragbir, general manager of First Citizens Investment Services and Marla Dukharan, group economist for RBC’s Caribbean operations.