TRADE and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon said Government will be fair and transparent in its dealings with new and foreign-used car dealers as it seeks to plug the leakage of foreign exchange (forex) through the importation of cars.

In his budget presentation on October 5, Finance Minister Colm Imbert proposed the removal of all tax concessions on the importation of private vehicles from October 20; reduction in the permissible age of imported foreign used cars to three years, with effect from January; a reduction in the quotas for the importation of used cars by 30 per cent from January; and introduction of a quota system for importing new cars, also in January.

The intent of these policies, he said, was to reduce demand for cars and reduce the serious leakage of forex.

In her contribution to the budget debate in the House of Representatives, Gopee-Scoon reiterated that it costs approximately $2.5 billion to import 25,000 vehicles annually.

Gopee-Scoon observed, "There has been quite some noise from the foreign-used car dealers." She said she has promised to meet with TT Automotive Dealers Association president Visham Babwah to address the association's concerns.

On foreign used cars already en route to TT, Gopee-Scoon said Imbert will make a decision on the duties on those vehicles.

She continued, "In terms of the foreign-used car dealers, we are also looking closely on those dealers that hav

The ministry, she said, will also look at the number of vehicles bought by inviduals.

"What happens is, people go to the trade licences unit in Barataria, they get their individual licence and then they take it to the used car dealers.

"The used car dealers have their appropriate quota, but then they also accept individual licences when individuals bring it to them."

In addition, "We also have to look at the fact as well that the franchise holders in terms of new cars are not the only ones who bring in new cars. There are foreign-used car dealers who also bring in new cars as well."

She explained all of these issues require proper research so that informed decisions can be made. Gopee-Scoon also promised that "our decisions will be fair and transparent" in determing the quota system for new car dealers.

Gopee-Scoon identified as another area where forex leakage needed to be plugged.

"The food import bill stands at approximately $5.67 billion. That is substantial and has to be reduced."

She said it was unacceptable for sums of $1 billion, $180 million and $28 million to be spent to import fruits and vegetables; biscuits, bread and pastries; and dough, flour and water respectively.

"That cannot be allowed to continue."

Gopee-Scoon stressed that more must be done to boost domestic food production to reduce food imports.

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