price check: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar shows Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar a bottle of kuchela during her impromptu visit to Xtra Foods Supermarket in the Grand Bazaar, Uriah Butler Highway, yesterday. —Photo: MICHEAL BRUCE

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Kamla takes a first-hand look at VAT removal

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday promised to remove the Caricom duties on food as part of the ongoing bid to reduce prices.

The Prime Minister yesterday paid an impromptu visit to the Xtra Foods supermarket in the Grand Bazaar on the Uriah Butler Highway to check the implementation of the non-VAT prices on selected food items.

Persad-Bissessar said the VAT removal was just one measure to help reduce food prices.

"The other measures would include the same team I had set up and that would be to oversee the removal of duty. That would take a little longer," she said.

She said the duty removal is a matter which would affect Caricom's Common External Tariff (CET).

"Down the road, items like rice and flour and sugar are already zero-rated but because of the duties on them they tend to impact heavily on the consumer, but those are longer-term measures, this was a short-term measure," she said.

Persad-Bissessar was accompanied by Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar and Trade and Investment Minister Vasant Bharath. The three, with a big security contingent, caused quite a stir as shoppers stopped to take pictures of the Prime Minister with her basket of groceries.

"It was really to come and see for myself, to look at as many products as I could have to see if the difference was there," she said.

"I am very happy with what they have done here because you can see the before and after, so you can immediately see the impact on your pocket and indeed you would see it again in your bill," she said.

"This is what you would call a 'who would have thought it' moment and I am very very happy to see there will in fact be a reduction and there are thousands of items that will be affected," she said.

Persad-Bissessar said the next step would be for the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Prices Council to keep monitoring so that this is not a one-shot today and by tomorrow the prices have gone back up.

"We have left out the luxury items, so chocolates and lobster and caviar would not be included and alcohol will not be zero-rated," she said.

She said while the imported Christmas products were already out on the shelves, she was impressed by the number of local items available.

"The greatest measure in bringing down food prices would be to increase the supply of local food in the country," she added.

The removal of the 15 per cent VAT on thousands of food items was supposed to take place yesterday and although prices have gone down on some items, grocers said they were still struggling with the "confusing list" released by the government.

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