In two weeks, the country will be told how the Government intends to help citizens cope with the increase in flour prices.
In the interim, Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon has appealed to retailers to stop price gouging.
Speaking during a post-Cabinet media conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s yesterday, Gopee-Scoon said some of the current prices on the shelves were unacceptable.
“I do make a strong appeal to the retailers, in particular, the 40 and 60 per cent mark-ups we are seeing on very basic items, unacceptable, unacceptable, because there are supermarkets that are doing mark-ups by 25 per cent I know on basic items and sometimes lower,” Gopee-Scoon said.
“We ask them not to be unconscionable, this is a time of crisis in food security for the world, not just Trinidad and Tobago,” she added.
But while she sent out the appeal, Gopee-Scoon admitted there was little the Government could do to those who choose to ignore the call.
She said the Consumer Affairs Division will continue to monitor prices on supermarket shelves and if price gouging continues, she will name and shame those unscrupulous retailers.
Quizzed about why the Government does not implement a price-control mechanism, Gopee-Scoon said this had not been done in the seven years since the People’s National Movement (PNM) took office.
“I don’t think it might be necessary, we would continue to use influence and, of course, continue to have discussions. As I said, name, Consumer Affairs would give the information where it is available, consumers would have the power of deciding where they’re going to buy. I don’t think we would come to that place that we left off so many years ago,” Gopee-Scoon said.
As for those citizens who are struggling to cope with the rising cost of living, Gopee-Scoon promised to come back within two weeks with a solution.
“At this stage, we realise that we have to try to assist, especially with this very basic item, the Ministry of Finance, the rest of the Government, the Cabinet, we are reviewing what the possibilities are but understanding the complexities in determining what’s the right solution,” she said.
Gopee-Scoon said among the ideas the Government had considered so far was subsidising the operations of the National Flour Mills (NFM). However, she said with a private flour producer operating on the market, that idea had been discarded.
She also offered some insight into other options that had been shelved.
“It’s very easy to say let’s go to those who receive social development assistance but that’s a narrow net because many, many more households are in fact feeling the pinch with this increase in flour which is a really basic item.”
She also sent out a call to consumers, saying with the price of flour increasing, they should consider alternatives to their diets, especially with the high incidents of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in T&T.
“This calls for some introspection on your spend, how you eat, your welling of yourselves, of your families. We have a serious issue of NCDs in Trinidad and Tobago, perhaps it’s almost a bit of a wake-up call, am I eating the right thing? In the right amounts? Let’s think about these things as well,” she said.
As she sought to assure the population that NFM will be able to supply flour to the country for the rest of the year, Gopee-Scoon explained that despite the wording, the wheat was not actually in stock.
“I want to clarify something, the grain is not in stock because people are saying why are the prices increasing if the grain is in stock? It is not that, what they’ve engaged in is forward buying, both NFM and the other local producer and as you know, because of the risk involved in forward buying, it is at an even heavier price,” she said.
Gopee-Scoon said the Government had put pressure on NFM to source alternative wheat types and lower-cost suppliers.
However, she said the quality, consistency and protein value of the alternatives were lower than what this country currently produces, so that avenue was not pursued.
On June 21, the National Flour Mills (NFM) announced that due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, wheat imports were slowing down globally and some wheat-producing nations had halted exports.
The company said although it had an adequate supply of wheat for the rest of 2022, it would be forced to increase the wholesale and retail prices of flour. The wholesale price was increased by 33 per cent and the retail price was increased by 28 per cent. Both increases went into effect on June 22. Also on June 22, the Nutrimix Flour Mills announced it would increase the cost of its flour products by ten to 33 per cent.