CABINET has approved a National Action Plan to combat illicit trade in consumer goods in T&T, such as alcohol, tobacco, cleaning agents and pharmaceuticals.
In 2018, Trinidad and Tobago ranked 75th out of 84 economies in the Global Illicit Trade Environment Index and Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon said that this ranking for T&T is not good hence why the Government has a zero tolerance approach to illicit trade.
Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday to Combat Illicit Trade at her office in Nicholas Towers in Port of Spain, Gopee-Scoon said with immediate effect the cabinet will appoint the Anti-illicit Trade Taskforce and commence implementation of the National Action Plan to Combat Illicit Trade in Consumer goods.
“This Taskforce, (AITTF), comprises ten government agencies, one Non-Governmental Governmental Organisation and two private sector entities.
Other than the Trade Ministry, the list includes Customs and Excise, the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Finance, the Office of the Attorney General, the Tobacco Unit of the Ministry of Health, the Chemistry Food and Drugs Division, the Police Service, Crime Stoppers, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the Manufacturers Association.”
The minister expects the plan to be implemented in May, but does not rule out the possibility of an earlier start-up.
The AITTF would also be tasked with reviewing the framework of various pieces of legislation to ensure that they are up to date and the fines and penalties are adequate in order to give more teeth to the plan.
Gopee-Scoon said a substantial amount of money has been lost to the manufacturing sector such as the West Indian Tobacco Co Ltd (WITCO) and the alcohol industry.
“The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce have indicated a 22 per cent of imported alcohol enters the country illegally, such as Johnny Walker and other spirits.
Major local alcohol distributors reported in 2019 that their losses were over $50million, due to the illegal imports,” Gopee-Scoon said.
The Express contacted WITCO on how much money was lost to the illicit trade and the communications department stated that based on current figures and market trends in industry it could be in the range of $48 million.
The minister noted that not only does the illicit trade in goods adversely affect tax collection, the business and economic sectors, but it also poses a serious risk to the health of the nation.
“I’m sure if you go into the pharmacy, there are over the counter drugs that you would find, small pharmacies in particular, that all of the recommendations and stuff are not in English. I’ve seen some of those and I’m not sure that all of those have been approved by the Chemistry Food and Drug Division of the Ministry of Health,” Gopee-Scoon added.
The Action Plan would also see the development of two systems for Customs and Excise.
The first is a Reference Pricing System…which would give an estimate of the minimum reference price at which specific goods are allowed to enter the country, in a bid to prevent under invoicing.
The second is the Customs Recordal System for Intellectual Property Rights.