As consumers continue to face high food prices, due to global supply chain constraints, trade between Argentina and this country may contribute to lower food price index. foodstuffs.
That was the view of Argentine Ambassador Marcelo Suarez Salvia and trade and agriculture consultant Jai Rampersad, in an interview with Express Business last Friday.
Rampersad said that while trade facilitation would not reduce that country’s food import bill by $5.7 billion a year, it would help make food prices more competitive and reduce the price index.
He referred to the shipment of pears that arrived last year for the first time from Argentina and the first container of grapes, which arrived last month.
“The pear and grape containers were both 40ft and contained between 1,156 and 1,260 cases of pears, while the grapes contained 2,160 cases, which included globe, red, green and black seedless. With this trade facilitation, the wholesale price for grapes is TT$300 per box compared to TT$500 in other countries and for pears it is TT$400 per box compared to TT$520. These types of declines can help consumers,” Rampersad said.
He noted that after a review of existing trade policies, it was determined that a “feasibility study” should first be conducted by him to determine if the products would be competitive in the Trinidad and Tobago market. .
While many hurdles had to be overcome, such as payment terms, payment options (US dollar issues), inconsistent pricing, high transportation costs, long shipping/transit times, he and his team were determined to make it happen.
Speaking, Salvia identified that Argentina is able to offer this country, and the entire Caribbean, plenty of fresh produce and products that are not readily available in the region.
“We can offer equipment ranging from food to technology, but it is up to the public and private sectors in various countries to choose the business that suits them best, and then Argentina will explore ways to make it happen.”
The ambassador, who was posted there last year at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, said high-quality beef from Argentina could be supplied to T&T.
“The responsibility lies with the private sector whether they want to get into trade facilitation for beef to be imported and sold to large supermarket chains, caterers and wholesalers. For example, Little Red Hen Distributors Ltd (LRHD) was in charge of the distribution of pears and grapes, so the private sector only has to identify what is needed and discussions can take place,” said he points out.
Salvia also pointed out that it is cheaper to import many food products, such as cereals and cooking oil, from Argentina as opposed to other international suppliers.
“We can be seen as another viable option for imports, especially in light of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, as my country has the capacity to offer a wide range of food and commodity products” , he pointed out.
Salvia said relations between the two countries were good as Argentina used to buy oil and gas from T&T and with the ongoing war they might have to start buying oil and gas again.
Asked if discussions have taken place with the government regarding trade facilitation, Salvia and Rampersad said no, but added that they would look forward to such a dialogue once they have the opportunity. .
Express Business reached out via WhatsApp to Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon who briefly said that her ministry is still open for trade facilitation meetings.
In 2019, Argentina’s main trading partner countries for exports were Brazil, China, the United States, Chile and Vietnam and for imports, Brazil, China, the United States, India. Germany and Paraguay.
Need for expansion
Rampersad, who is also a trade consultant for many Eastern Caribbean countries, said now is the time to explore other importers as the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine may further exacerbate the supply chain. food supply.
He explained that the outcome of this trade will also improve the access of Trinidad and Tobago consumers to higher quality fresh agricultural products.
“Local retailers who received and distribute these Argentine apples and pears confirmed excellent quality and reasonable price compared to products from the United States. Upon entering Trinidad, product inspections were carried out by plant quarantine officials who praised the high quality of the imported products. These products are certified by several international bodies,” he said.
Rampersad noted that he is currently working to bring plums, cherries and strawberries to that country.
“For strawberries and cherries, a “pest risk analysis” must be carried out before import permits can be granted, but red and black plums can be imported from Argentina; however, the demand from T&T suppliers is not there, so we are working on it. »
According to him, investment in the agro-processing of agricultural products produced locally between the two countries can be a plus.
“I am truly passionate to see my country progress and I am here to lend my expertise to government and the private sector to keep the wheels turning. This trade facilitation will also create more employment opportunities,” he said added.
He indicated that his experience in the agricultural sector spans over 15 years with experience in international agricultural trade (poultry, eggs, fruits and vegetables), trade policy/agreement development (Trinidad and Tobago and Argentina), regional agriculture development (St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia and Barbados) and senior management (acting CEO) of one of the major distributors Caribbean agriculture.