PORT OF SPAIN – Out of a $5.6 billion food import bill, T&T has spent a staggering $669 million on alcoholic beverages alone.
The startling figure was revealed in the Senate on Tuesday by Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat in his budget contribution.
Touching on the food import bill, Rambharat said this was one area the media and citizens often questioned him about.
“Well, there is one thing that I always have to remind them…because people believe that the food import bill is the business of the minister. But I don’t consume $669 million in alcohol every year. So it’s not only me drinking up that tab.”
Rambharat said people feel that importing food accounts for only vegetables, fruits, imported meats and root crops purchased from countries outside.
He said, “There is a lot of things that go in there. And when you have an opportunity to make a purchasing decision, you have the power to support young farmers in your community and neighbourhoods. You who have control, just as I have control over it.”
Last year, in his budget contribution in the Senate, Rambharat had told the Upper House that whisky valued at $100 million was imported into T&T between October 2015 and March 2016— a mere six months period.
In response to a text message, Rambharat could not give a breakdown of what alcoholic beverages were the most sought after, stating that only Customs and Excise Division would have that information.
He, however, said the $669 million on imported alcohol was for 2016 alone.
Asked if he thought the figure was far too much on alcoholic drinks for the country, Rambharat again re-emphasised that citizens have the belief that the country imports $5.6 billion in vegetables, “but we bring in a wide range of items under food imports.”
Rambharat also revealed that of the $771 million allocated to his ministry in 2018, $109 million has to go towards repayment of a loan, following the expenditure of $400 million by the Estate Business Management Development Company (EMBD) on roads in 2015.