Paula Gopee-Scoon

‘WE MADE IT EASIER’: Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon during her contribution to yesterday’s debate in the Lower House. —Photo courtesy The Office of The Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago

The Ministry of Trade and Industry has appealed to manufacturers, importers, distributors and supermarket owners to refrain from increasing prices in the current economic climate.

The ministry yesterday in a media release asked that business owners consider the consumer and stop price gouging and other exploitive practices.

Customers were also reminded of their freedom of choice and were advised to compare prices before purchasing.

This, following a statement by the Supermarket Association of Trinidad and Tobago (SATT) indicating that suppliers had signalled price increases, identifying challenges in the operating climate.

The release stated that supermarkets were effectively unable to control price increases by suppliers which will result in higher prices at the supermarkets.

The SATT stated that it would continue to work with suppliers to ensure products are available at the best prices for consumption.

The release identified two manufacturers who had indicated changes to prices in late 2019.

SATT stated, “The latest of these came in the closing week of 2019 as both Angostura Ltd and National Flour Mills (NFM) signalled price increases in different categories of products to supermarkets nationwide.”

The Ministry stated, however, that local flour producers, NFM, and Nutrimix both indicated that there will be no change in the price of flour.

‘Shop around’

Angostura products, however, were considered luxury items and not identified as a necessity or basic food item, the ministry said.

The ministry stated that at the 49th Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) in November 2019, the government sought the suspension of the Common External Tariff on a list of basic food items and which was approved in accordance with Amended Article 83(3) paragraph (b) for the period January 1 to December 31, 2020 to apply a zero per cent rate of duty on a series of selected items.

The items include fish dried, salted or in brine, cheese, teas, fruit juices, yeast, other prepared or preserved meat, canned fish, corned beef and preparations for infant use.

“The MTI would like to take this opportunity to appeal to manufacturers, importers, distributors and supermarket owners to consider the consumer in the current economic climate and work with the Government to ensure stable and fair pricing and to refrain from price gouging and other exploitative practices. The business community is reminded that one of the roles of the Fair Trading Commission is to function as a watchdog by monitoring business conduct and claims of anti-competitive practices,” it stated.

The ministry reminded citizens that there was no Government control of prices and that prices were subject to free market conditions. “This allows for prices to rise and fall freely depending purely on the laws of demand and supply,” it stated.

But, the ministry said, customers were provided with the opportunity to exercise freedom of choice. And customers were encouraged to focus on their bargaining power through comparative shopping and freedom to purchase or refuse purchase of any good or service.

“Comparative shopping prior to purchase ensures that one capitalises on the best pricing of merchandise and services. Shoppers should also take advantage of specials and sales on items. In the month of December, for instance, supermarkets advertised a number of attractive specials which favoured the consumer. This should continue,” the release stated.

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