Gopee-Scoon slams retailers for unfair mark-ups on food

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Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon says the ministry remains committed to driving the non-energy sectors of the TT economy. – File photo/Sureash Cholai

TRADE Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon said her ministry knew the identities of those retailers making excessive mark-ups or trying to pass off old stock as new stock on which to charge higher prices to consumers. “I can tell you who they are,” she said on Thursday at the post-Cabinet briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s. “Be reasonable” Gopee-Scoon urged retailers.

Gopee-Scoon advised that a genuine hike in the price of flour should be 10-33 per cent, equivalent to a $2-4 hike per two kilogramme bag.

Otherwise she said National Flour Mills (NFM) has contracts to secure its imports of flour up until year-end and the country has adequate supplies for this year.

Lamenting reports of a 40-60 per cent hike in some food staples, she said, “That can’t be right.”

She said her ministry has already noted as very large variance in the increase in the price of flour.

“I can tell you who they are. But I’m not yet ready to name and shame.

“But there are those who are holding stock of the item they bought at a particular price and they’ve already gone up. And I have the names. But let’s give them a few days, and we can talk about this again.” The minister urged retailers to be reasonable and conscionable, saying that in the past they all had done very well financially.

“Let’s all be reasonable, with citizens in mind, by controlling your mark-ups again, as we try to navigate these very trying times and ensure no-one is left behind.”

She later repeated her appeal to retailers during the question period, saying a 40-60 per cent mark-up on food staples was “unacceptable” when it should more typically be 25 per cent.

Gopee-Scoon appealed, “This is a time of crisis.”

Saying people asked about price-hikes if wheat grain were already in TT, she explained that this grain was not yet in stock in TT but was being secured by forward-buying.

She said the Government wished to help people and within a fortnight would report on any measures to assist the vulnerable to face the price-hikes.

While it might be easy to target help to welfare recipients, she said many more households were also feeling the pinch.

Replying to questions, she said this country no longer has the price-controls of yesteryear, but would instead rely on having discussions, the impact of market conditions and moral suasion.

Given that NFM has a commercial rival, Gopee-Scoon did not think taxpayers dollars could paid to the NFM to subsidise the flour price (where the NFM is 51 per cent government-owned).

She reckoned the global factors causing the flour price-hike were temporary, listing these as ranging from the war in Ukraine to food export restrictions by countries such as Indonesia, Ghana and Serbia. Gopee-Scoon welcomed a very recent dip in the cost of soya and wheat but said prices were “extremely volatile.”

She welcomed word that both flour producers in TT had said their prices would be adjusted in line in market conditions (which alluded to a price reduction if the market price falls.)

The minister viewed this as an opportunity for people to seek “healthier, indigenous sources of food” in light of this country having the region’s highest rate of non-communicable diseases. Gopee-Scoon said by now everyone who could should have planted a breadfruit tree in their yard or otherwise grow some food plants at home. Energy Minister Stuart Young chimed in to say the Government was not comfortable with what was going on, but said high food prices was a global issue about which the Government could do very little.

Later, the Kiss Baking Company in a statement said the price of its products would go up by 11 per cent as of July 1, following a 33 per cent rise in the NFM’s price of wholesale flour on June 22.

Otherwise, the trade ministry’s Consumer Affairs Division (CAD) later expressed its “grave concern” that the price of some brands of flour has already increased in several business establishments nationwide despite the local private producer announcing its decision to increase its prices effective from next Monday (June 27).

Newsday understands that the private producer was Country Pride, so the division knew exactly which retail brands of flour should be sold at raised prices only as of next Monday.

Otherwise, the NFM had said on Tuesday (June 21) that its price hike would take effect on Wednesday gone (June 22).

The statement continued, “The Ministry of Trade and Industry is pleading with all retailers of flour to be fair and reasonable in their mark-ups and keep the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago in mind as we all navigate these trying times. The CAD will continue to closely monitor the cost of flour and will publish the relevant prices in various supermarkets throughout Trinidad and Tobago.”


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