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Produce being sold at the market

For import-dependent countries like T&T, international crises like COVID-19 especially associated with major trade partners can have deep repercussions on the local economy and people whose livelihoods are interconnected, said Agricultural Economist Omardath Maharaj.

He noted that between 2014 to 2018, food and agriculture products represented an annual average of 4.09 per cent of total Chinese exports to this country, worth almost US$ 17 million.

Total Chinese exports to T&T were estimated to be approximately US$ 348 million in 2018, Maharaj said.

He noted that T&T’s (2014-2018) total imports averaged US$ 7.65 billion, adding that food and agriculture products imported are estimated to be US$ 959 million annually or 13.2 per cent of total imports.

“It re-emphasises my continuous suggestion that we need to have a serious rethink of development policy and planning in agriculture; a sector that has suffered from a history of underinvestment and failed policy,” Maharaj said.

He said to systematically reduce T&T’s reliance on foreign food products and bolster this country’s own capacity, there must be a fundamental shift in the sector’s priority, raising it on the national development agenda which is to be supported by an overarching national policy framework for sustainable agriculture and rural development.

“My fear is compounded by reports of diminished import cover. Reduced foreign revenue from the energy sector and reserves in the face of maintaining our import dependence and debt servicing alone is a challenge.

“The potential for increased food prices globally is gaining momentum with restrictions, production and product sourcing, transportation and evolving food safety issues,” Maharaj added.

He said T&T had failed to develop production, processing and marketing arrangements for basic staple food products over the years and leaving agriculture solely as farmers’ responsibility was untenable.

“We need to protect and strengthen the actual productive farmers, fishers, and local entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry but the issues confronting them remain unaddressed after decades of underinvestment and lack of prominence in our development history,” Maharaj added.