Princes Town Market vendor Osha Ramnath has a couple varieties of apples and grapes among other vegetables at her stall. Apples and grapes are now considered luxury items as outlined by Finance Minister Colm Imbert during his budget presentation and will now be taxed.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert should not class apples and grapes as taxable “luxury foods” since they are not. But Imbert should discuss with the Health Minister what foods are needed by the many people with Non-Communicable Diseases before taxing some items.

So said Independent senator Amrita Deonarine in yesterday’s Senate debate of the 2021 Budget.

“Don’t send us back to the old days when you only saw apples and grapes at Christmas time, please,” Deonarine added.

Deonarine, an economist, also warned the middle class will suffer more than others and she warned Government about handling economic issues including devaluation which will cause the cost of living to rise.

Imbert in his October 5 Budget speech named apples and grapes among “luxury items” to carry VAT tax. He also said lobster, escargot, smoked salmon and strawberries would carry tax.

Deonarine urged caution on classing some foods like apples and grapes as “luxury items”.

In the absence of a household survey, she said Government wouldn’t know what consumption patterns are. She noted he didn’t say apples and grapes yesterday,”But apples and grapes are no longer luxury items, they are normal goods so I don’t think that should go on the luxury list.”

Deonarine noted TT has a high incidence of Non-Communicable Diseases which makes people’s diets very important.

Some of the items needed for a healthy diet include nuts, whole grains, fruits, non -hydrogenated products and many others.

“The Minister should sit with the Health Minister and prioritise, see what type of consumption patterns there are and perhaps get manufacturers to increase local production of items, for example, whole grain foods.”

She also suggested mini whole-grain hanisms be instituted on luxury items since she said she sometimes sees some imported items rotting on supermarket shelves.

Deonarine warned that while some would benefit from the expanded personal income tax level to those earning $7,000 and less, the middle class would “take a hit” from property tax, utility rate hikes, motor vehicle taxes, liberalisation of the fuel sector, freeze on public service hiring and the possible extension of the retirement age to 65.

As a result, she said concerns on possible devaluation could increase in the face of Budget measures which will have serious knock-on effects on the public.