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SATT keeps eye on price increases before VAT removal
Food importers, manufacturers and distributors are making 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. A full page advertisement in today’s daily newspaper by the Supermarkets Association of T&T (SATT) is calling on businesses in the food industry not to accept price increases on VAT-able and zero-rated food items from the three groups.
“Whilst we work towards achieving the complete list of food products that will be zero-rated, we kindly request businesses in the food industry not to accept any price increases on any VAT-able, as well as zero-rated food products during this transitional period from October 1 to November 15,” the advertisement stated.
SATT requested that any instructions of any price increase by food importer, manufacturer and supplier during the transitional period should be forwarded to the association. This information, SATT noted, will then be forwarded to the Government’s inter-ministerial committee to pursue appropriate action.
SATT president: We’re wrongly blamed
Yesterday, president of SATT Vernon Persad admitted that the executive of the association had seen a rise in zero-rated and VAT-able food items on invoices dated October 1 from the three groups. This was a mere two days after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar at a pre-budget rally announced plans to remove VAT on all food items.
Persad said the association will not accept the price surge and issued a warning to its 300 members to do the same, since this will be passed on to consumers. The increases were put on zero-rated items such as rice, prunes and prune juices and several VAT-able items, Persad said.
Of the 7,000 zero-rated items, Persad said, the committee had so far identified 5,303 items, which fell in 35 categories. He said Consumers Affairs and the Prices Council should legitimise the price increase. “This is the time the Prices Council should be showing their mandate.” There are over 170 food suppliers and distributors in T&T, Persad said.
“For far too long the supermarket industry has been blamed when prices are increased. Consumers really don’t go up the chain to see where the hike originates. We are no longer going to answer questions for the distributors and suppliers of the country.”
Brown: Prices council powerless
Co-ordinator of the Network NGOs for the Advancement of Women Hazel Brown said they had received several complaints from consumers about price gouging on tuna and pack juices this month. “So by the time the VAT comes off we would pay the same price or an even higher price.”
Brown said there was no measure in place to prevent this and described the Prices Council as powerless. “Until consumers are no longer willing to pay the prices, it will keep going up. The real culprits in all of this is not the supermarkets, it is the people who are supplying, some of whom have their own agenda and will benefit the most from the activity.” She urged consumers to save their grocery bills from now until November 15 to compare prices.
Hi-Lo: There was a special on tuna
Meanwhile, the Westmoorings branch of Hi-Lo Food Stores was knocked on Facebook this week for raising a tin of Bumble Bee chunk tuna in oil from $7.99 on September 16 to $11.49 in less than a month. Assistant manager of the branch Natalie Owen said prices were determined by Hi-Lo’s head office and not the branches.
Owen said prices would only increase if the supplier raised its prices. “Our markup remains the same.” She said when Hi-Lo sold the tuna for $7.99 it had been on special. “Probably we got it at a good deal.” Owen was reluctant to say if consumers had complained of paying more for food products in the last two weeks.
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