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File picture: The inside of the Tokyo Steel Orchestra pan yard with used cars for sale.

Government is looking to de-register used car dealers who have not observed all the terms of their dealership according to Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon.

Speaking in the Parliament yesterday in support of the government’s 2021 budget, the Trade Minister explained that the country was spending $2.5 billion on the importation of cars and part of the roll back was to examine closely the operations of the sector.

“In terms of used foreign used car Industry, we are also looking closely at those dealers who have not observed all of the terms of their dealerships and will be moving to de-register them.,” the minister added.

Finance Minister last week Monday had announced a reduction in the quota allowed for the importation of used vehicles and also a reduction in the maximum age of the vehicles, down to three years.

Goopee-Scoon said the country has been spending more foreign currency that it earns on an annual basis.

During January to September 2020 alone, the value of purchases of US Currency from the Central Bank by all authorised FX dealers in the financial sector was US$940 million, said Gopee-Scoon during .

According to the Central Statistical Office (CSO), food imports valued approximately TT$5.67 billion in 2019.

Of that amount, TT$1.1 billion of fruits and vegetables and TT$1.0 billion of cereals and cereals preparations are imported annually, the minister noted.

She added the country also spent TT$180 million on biscuits, breads and pastries and TT$28 million on mixes and doughs.

Additionally, Gopee-Scoon said T&T used approximately TT$2.5 billion annually to import motor vehicles.

She said T&T we must therefore prioritise the availability of foreign exchange for the importation of food, medicines and inputs into manufacturing

Gopee-Scoon also urged the country to buy local and support locally made goods and services.

Impact of COVID-19 on

The Trade Minister said T&T’s international trade declined mainly due to the closure of international borders, as well as the impact of the virus on the North American and CARICOM markets, ( two of the country’s largest export destinations) which reduced demand for imported products for both inputs and consumption globally.

Gopee-Scoon said in April 2020 (at the height of the Pandemic), T&T was exporting to only 57 markets but by September 2020, there were already positive signs of an imminent turnaround as non-energy exports reached 71 markets, an increase of 14 markets in comparison to April 2020.

Strength of

The minister noted T&T has a robust non-energy export sector.

Over the last five years, the country’s average annual exports was TT$13.6 billion, representing approximately 21 per cent of total exports.

In 2019, Gopee-Scoon said T&T’s non-energy exports reached over 120 markets globally, spanning most regions of the world including North, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, as well as Asia, Africa and Oceania.

Over the last five years, the country benefited from significant growth in a number of these regions, particularly in Central America (66 percent increase), North America (61 percent increase), Oceania (61 percent increase) and the Caribbean (23 per cent increase).

“Although our non-energy export market base is quite diverse, the vast majority (86 per cent) of exports are mostly concentrated in the US and the Caribbean markets which account for approximately 47 per cent and 39 per cent respectively,” Gopee-Scoon added.

In 2019, she said there were 184 non-energy exporters whose export earnings were above TT$1 million.

However, 55 per cent of these exporters (102) are SMEs and as such more support is required to improve their export capabilities in the medium to long term

Illicit trade

The minister said recently, T&T has seen a rise in illegally traded commodities such as tobacco, alcohol and cleaning agents.

She said Government has outlined several initiatives to combat this including:

i. Task the respective ministries and border agencies to immediately increase surveillance of retail operations

ii. Seize illegal products and restrict the importation of illegal commodities.

ii. Facilitate consumer education on the responsible consumption of products.

iii. Enforce appropriate national standards for affected products.

Gopee-Scoon said the Trade Ministry is also spearheading the development of a comprehensive action plan in collaboration with key trade-related agencies, and the private sector.

She explained proposed actions will include strengthening the capacity of regulatory and enforcement agencies to detect illicit trade and enforce necessary penalties and modernizing legislation, enforcing national standards for affected products and increasing consumer awareness.

This will be followed by a targeted approach, prioritizing those products which are most frequently traded illicitly such as tobacco, alcohol and cleaning agents.

Gopee-Scoon said the Plan is expected to be completed by the second quarter of fiscal 2021.

Other measures include a new Consumer Protection and Empowerment Act which will inter alia treat with the sale of counterfeit goods and enhance cooperation amongst enforcement agencies to address claims of counterfeit goods brought by consumers.