Bharath chairs an inter-ministerial committee currently determining which food items will be made VAT free.
Bharath held up a nearly 100-foot long list of food items in the Senate, as he contributed to the 2013 Budget debate. Bharath said the previous regime only made 54 items zero-rated or VAT free.
“This is the listing of items that were removed by the previous regime, 54 items. They can be incorporated on one page,” Bharath said. “But I have here a listing of the items that are now also going to be removed. This is the list! This is the list!”
Bharath then dramatically unfolded the list from among his Senate papers, holding it up and turning for all members of the Senate to see, amid desk-thumping from the Government benches. He alluded to allegations that the Opposition did not have 25,000 signatories to a petition on the Section 34 issue.
“This contains real names. There are real names on this list. Unlike the list that was allegedly presented to the President,” he said. “Let me just read out a few. Pigeon peas, corn soup, corn- flakes, coconut milk, cream of wheat, guava jam, mashed potatoes, grapefruit juice, apple juice, picnic hams. Picnic hams Madam Vice-President! Almost every family is going to have on their table. Not every family of course.”
Bharath, who spoke as his dad Dr John Bharath — former MP for St Augustine — looked on from the public gallery, continued reading the list: “Kool Aid, Baked Beans.”
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan queried, “Kool Aid had VAT on it?”
Bharath continued, “Smalta, soya for vegetarians, black-eyed-peas, kidney beans, macaroni, pig-tail, those are some of the items of the almost 6,000 items which are listed here that will alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable.”
On October 1, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she was advised that 7,000 items stood to be included on the zero-rated list in the category of food. She said the committee would finalise the list. Bharath, at another event yesterday, said the process of finalising the list was ongoing and the committee was aiming to finalise it by the end of October. He said a deadline of November 15 has been set by Persad-Bissessar to complete the process.
“Sometime in the course of next week, we will finalise that listing of products that conform to what we determine to be basic items so you will have that information before the end of this month,” Bharath told manufacturers at the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) breakfast forum on competitiveness at Hilton Trinidad, St Ann’s, before his presentation in the Senate.
In response, managing director of Diana Candy, Ronald Grosberg, said his company did not want to stock supermarket shelves before he knows what products will be VAT free and called for a decision to be made soon as the Christmas season was approaching. Grossburg proposed that Government considers removing VAT on local manufactured products and keep it on imported items.
Finance Minister Larry Howai, who spoke at the forum, said that was currently being considered but noted that it does present some competitive issues with local manufacturers.
“If your packaging and labelling carry VAT and you are producing food locally, then you are going to have that mark up on your production. That further exacerbates the problem, we are aware of it, and how we deal with it is a major issue that has been addressing the committee the last few days,” he said. Grossburg told the ministers that manufacturing had become extremely tough and surviving was extremely hard and asked that Government provide some sort of protection from outside competitors.
“To survive in this market, I need protection. I don’t have it. I might as well go to China, buy my stock ready made, bring it here and pack it. That is what the market is here, every week you see new competition in the market, taking up shelf space and very little employment in that sector but they are competing with me and it is very hard to do that as a manufacturer,” Grossburg said.
He also brought up the problem of labour as he complained that he could not get workers.
“We need people but we can’t find them. I have a permanent sign outside our factory looking for workers. Fortunately we get women willing to work, we can’t get guys, some of them don’t last three hours,” he said.
Bharath said a proposal was being considered to provide incentives to manufacturers who employ and train persons from the Unemployment Relief Programme and Community-Based Environmental Prot-
ection and Enhancement of
the Environment Programme (CEPEP).