The crackdown on illicit tobacco trade has been taken to a new level following the first meeting of the Working Group on Tobacco, after its official formation at the Fifth Meeting of the Anti-Illicit Trade Taskforce (AITTF) held last month.

The Working Group met on 14th March 2022, in a session that included representatives of the co-chair organisations Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) and Crime Stoppers Trinidad and Tobago, along with representatives from the Customs and Excise Division, Financial Intelligence Unit, Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries and representatives from the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

A release issued by the TTMA reports that during the meeting, Ilanka Manrique, the representative appointed to act on behalf of the TTMA on the AITTF, underscored the efforts of the Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of National Security on the establishment of the group, and the Association’s commitment to working with all of the participants to devise solutions to tackle illicit trade in tobacco.

Darrin Carmichael of Crime Stoppers Trinidad expressed similar sentiments, highlighting that the Government loses significant revenue due to the prevalence of illicit trade in consumer products and the deliberations of the committee would aid in the formulation of a plan of action on mitigating against incidences of the act.

“The Association takes it role in combatting illicit trade in Trinidad and Tobago very seriously and since January 2020, has undergone a series of initiatives such as public awareness campaigns, training sessions for law enforcement officers and sensitization sessions geared toward effecting change in this area,” the TTMA release noted.

“The hope is that these efforts and the multi-stakeholder collaboration through the working group on tobacco would lead to greater rewards for the Government, legitimate, legal businesses and consumers at large,” the release added.

Among the priority matters discussed at the Tobacco Working Group meeting were the estimation and identification of the trade locally, current high levels of taxation and key recommendations to address the issue, such as:

●   Review and improve the enforcement of existing legislations

●   Implement and increase more robust penalties and fines for actors that do not comply with the prohibitions under the Tobacco Control Act and Tobacco Control Regulations

●   Intensify border control and security

●   Training and Education

●   Policy Reform

●   Strengthen inter-agency and institutional collaboration

●   Increase manpower resources (C&ED, TTPS, TCU, Coast Guard Officers)

●   Implementation of a track-and-trace system

●   Public Awareness Initiatives

●   Special Economic Zone – ensuring proper enforcement and protection of high-risk goods

The Working Group is expected to meet again soon to delve deeper into the recommendations and action plan to reduce illicit trade in tobacco products.

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TTMA’s Illicit Trade Desk was formed in 2018 as part of the organization’s thrust to increase awareness and reduce instances of illicit trade activities in Trinidad and Tobago. The effects of illicit trade are numerous, including a loss of revenue to the Government, the provision of sub-standard goods, and the erosion of legitimate businesses (the latter effect affecting the jobs of many persons). TTMA recognizes the adversities associated with illicit trade, and supports initiatives geared towards eradicating these activities in Trinidad and Tobago.