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Prices Council to start ‘name and shame campaign’
A “name and shame” campaign is being established by the Prices Council to advertise different brands of cheaper food items on the shelves of supermarkets for consumers.
The move comes one week after the Supermarket Association of T&T (Satt) had raised concerns in an advertisement in the print media that food importers, manufacturers and distributors were trying to make a last-ditch effort to increase food prices before Government moves to slash Value Added Tax (VAT) on 7,000 food items on November 15.
Chairman of the council Wendy Lee Yuen said while they view the recent price rise of five products—among them Par Excellence rice, a zero rated item—with concern, there was little they could do.
“We don’t have a legal capacity to penalise anyone. In a free trade environment you cannot really stop them. We operate in a free market system where open competition is supposed to keep prices down.” Lee Yuen said the council’s course of action would involve questioning the distributors directly to find out what has prompted the sudden price hike.
What would stem the problem, Lee Yuen said, are laws regarding monopoly. “This brings to the point that we may need to rethink if these systems work in the best interest of the consumer and if they don’t...
“Can we propose alternatives?” Lee Yuen said the council will challenge importers and distributors to justify their increases on certain food items. “People are looking for Robin Hood to rise out in the West and save them from high prices. I don’t know if anyone can fill that role.”
Distributors, manufacturers unscrupulous
The council, Lee Yuen said, will try to inform the public that they can get another brand of the same product at a cheaper price because importers, distributors and manufacturers have been unscrupulously and arbitrarily raising food prices. The increases were noticed hours after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, at a rally on September 29, announced that VAT would be removed from all food items.
The increases led co-ordinator of the Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women Hazel Brown to describe the council as “powerless.” While Lee Yuen agreed with Brown’s point of view that they are powerless to a certain extent, she called on consumers to exercise their buying power, stating that “they need to move away from the attitude that they can’t eat the money or do without a particular item.
“This will force the distributors to reduce its prices,” she added. There are 172 distributors in T&T. If one distributor moves up his/her prices arbitrarily, Lee Yuen said, another distributor should be able to go to the same manufacturer or supplier overseas and get them to sell the same product at a cheaper price. Lee Yuen said she was notified of the increases by Satt in a letter on Tuesday.
“I spoke to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Legal Affairs who has committed his support with staff and resources to look into this. We would embark on a name and shame campaign that will advertise prices of others brands than can be substituted at a cheaper price.”
A summary on the movement of prices in supermarkets for August 2012 on the council’s Web site, which was posted on Friday, revealed that the average price of selected food and other items at supermarkets throughout Trinidad reflected an increase of 0.87 per cent for the period July to August, 2012.
From 1.27 per cent in July 2012, prices rose to 2.14 per cent in August. It also represented an increase of 0.91 percentage points above its corresponding value from the same period last year. The report analysed and presented data on the average price movements of food and other selected basic supermarket items, market items and live poultry.
For comparative and analytical purposes, food items available at supermarkets are classified in 12 categories namely, meat, fish, dairy products, non alcoholic beverages, oils and fats, cereals, legumes, condiments and sauces, sweeteners, tuber and similar produce, juices and preparations for infant use and toiletries and cleaning products.
Overall, 67 per cent of the commodity groups surveyed at supermarkets recorded an increase, with the category tuber and other similar produce increasing the most. The survey showed that 33 per cent of these commodity groups registered a loss, with the category sweeteners decreasing the most over this period.
At least 112 food items are surveyed at supermarkets across Trinidad during the third week of each month. In terms of prices, increases ranged from as low as 0.09 per cent on the item grouping sauces and condiments, to as much as 23.25 per cent on the item grouping tuber and other similar produce.
In addition, price decreases ranged from 0.49 per cent on the item grouping oils and fats to 1.24 per cent on sweeteners. Generally, the period July to August, 2012, showed more price increases than decreases in the selected basket of food items surveyed at supermarkets.
• To view the Monthly Price Movements for August 2012, visit www.legalaffairs.gov.tt/price information.
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