Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 31st 2016 Contents JANUARY 31, 2016 www.guardian.co.tt SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN
NEWS | SBG5
The new value-added tax (VAT)
regime comes into effect
tomorrow February 1, and the
president of the Supermarkets
Association (SATT), Yunus
Ibrahim, is urging consumers
to be alert and ensure they are getting value
While many previously zero-rated items
would now have the 12.5 per cent VAT, Ibrahim
said consumers should "take a look at the big-
ger picture, electricity and telephone bills will
come down by 2.5 per cent, and the fact is
VAT is dropping."
Ibrahim said, very often, supermarkets are
the ones that take a beating but he is urging
consumers "to be their own watchdogs. Look
for proper labelling with expiry dates and if
the label does not have the information, don t
Ibrahim told the GML Enterprise Desk that
over the years, bona fide supermarket owners
in T&T have been seeking to improve the qual-
ity of food products accessible to consumers.
He said, in some instances, suppliers may
bring foods that are labelled but have no expiry
"Sometimes it could be a genuine mistake,
sometimes it slips through the cracks. The
supermarket owner has a duty to ensure the
supplier takes back those goods and puts
proper labels with expiry dates before they
hit the supermarket shelves," said Ibrahim.
The first point where goods coming into
the country are checked are the nation s ports.
If there is a concern with a product, and it s
found not to meet the standards, the items
can be blocked.
The local regulatory and standards moni-
toring agency for the importation of food or
drugs is the chemistry and food and drug divi-
sion (CFDD) of the Ministry of Health. Accord-
ing to the division s Web site, the mandate of
the CFDD is to monitor all aspects of the
importation, manufacture, storage, distribution,
sale, fraud and deception in labelling and mar-
keting and disposal of food and drugs. Inspec-
tion must be sought prior to the importation,
manufacture or sale of the particular food or
drug. If an item that does not meet local stan-
dards is imported, the CFDD has the authority
to block its entry, or it can determine whether
the item can be relabelled.
The CFDD is authorised to conduct regular
food inspections at supermarkets to ensure
there is compliance with the Food and Drugs
Act. This includes proper labelling of foods
with expiry dates and goods that have expired
are not offered for sale.
But, the agency has reported that it has
found instances where there has been non-
compliance. When this happens, the goods
are seized and the supermarket owner is direct-
ed to take corrective action.
Ibrahim said, in these instances, the ministry
can contact the Supermarkets Association and
"we can do something." He said the indus-
try---virtually self-regulated---has over the years
sought to put consumers first and ensure only
goods that are approved and meet all health
and safety standards as well as proper labelling
and expiry dates make it to the shelves.
But it s not just the CFDD that has the
responsibility to ensure that consumers are
not short changed. The responsibility also
rests with the Bureau of Standards and the
Ministry of Consumer Affairs. Local super-
markets are now in competition with a plethora
of Chinese supermarkets that have been set
up strategically across the country.
On a visit to some of them, it was observed
that many of the goods on the shelves had
Chinese labels and, in some cases, no expiry
dates. Ibrahim said it could be that someone
was falling short in doing what they have to
do or simply turning a blind eye. Efforts to
contact officials at the CFDD were unsuc-
Trade Minister Paula Gopie Scoon told the
GML Enterprise Desk that labels that are in
a foreign language and which consumers can-
not read are a "valid concern" and she intends
to take up the matter on how those goods
make it to supermarket shelves.
The Minister said all food products must
be clearly labelled in English for the benefit
of consumers and must have expiry dates.
"A lot of the issues are overlapping as there
is food and drugs (CFDD), consumer affairs
unit, customs. There are rules. It is a clear
issue of enforcement which will be addressed."
Ibrahim said his association "wants the
authority to regulate supermarkets." He said
they had been in discussions with the previous
administration and he intends to pursue it
with the current government for "legislation
governing the operations of supermarkets in
Such a law, he said, "would allow for self-
regulation to protect the consumer by being
the final rubber stamp for approval to open
a new supermarket."
The person who opens a supermarket, he
added, "would be held to established standards
and ensure that they meet the criteria of the
Ministry of Health Inspectorate, the Bureau
of Standards and the consumer affairs division."
"There must be a level-playing field and,
no matter who comes in---be it the Russians
or whoever---consumers must be protected."
The thinking, he said, is that the super-
markets would carry "a logo indicating to con-
sumers that this is a bona fide supermarket
that has met the criteria for business."
The legislation, which he said is still being
discussed, would also include classes of super-
markets and would ensure that supermarkets
under SATT s purview "meet occupational
health and safety standards." This includes
"size of lanes, not just for shelf stock, but for
handling and processing."
He said the stores and retail outlet legislation
for food is very old and needs to be revisit-
ed.As it stands now, he said, "inspectors inter-
pret the law but there must be such a standard
that it is well grounded and not open to inter-
pretation by anyone."
Local supermarket owners, he said, have
over the years been very competitive and "this
has been to the benefit of consumers. The
nation does not suffer from any outbreak. We
touch hundreds of thousands of lives daily
and there are no outbreaks because we operate
with an unwritten law that targets the con-
sumer and gives them the best service and
He is hoping their efforts to get legislation
to regulate the industry would get the blessing
of the Government because it is in the interest
of the consumer.
GML ENTERPRISE DESK
As VAT is introduced tomorrow, consumers urged:
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