By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
GOVERNMENT hopes to soon meet with food retailers to come up with a permanent expanded price control list or other solutions before its existing price control regime ends on April 17, Economic Affairs Minister Michael Halkitis said yesterday.
He conceded that the status quo has largely affected smaller retailers compared to larger ones, saying officials are seeking to figure out the best way forward.
Mr Halkitis was asked for an update on ongoing talks with retailers during yesterday’s press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister.
He said: “That expanded list goes until April 17. Between now and then, we’ll seek to come to some meeting of the minds on a permanent expanded list or permanent solution. We’ve been discussing the matter and we have been assessing some of the impact because we have been having some meetings.
“Some of our people have been having meetings engaging the impact on what has been happening and seeing what the impact is getting some sort of feedback from particularly some small operators and try to figure out going forward what is the best formula going forward because frankly, what we found is that it intends to impact the smaller retailers more than the bigger retailers.”
Therefore, he said, moving forward the government will have to come up with a balanced solution that benefits both small and larger businesses.
“We have to figure out a way to whatever we do, make sure we sort of balance that out but we think it was the right course of action given the inflationary environment at the time and given that the government had already done things like reduce duties on food items during the last budget, intervene with shippers to get shipping rates down and prices remain stubbornly high,” he said.
Last year, the Davis administration rolled out a number of new price control measures for the pharmaceutical sector and food retailers to help offset rising inflation.
The government expanded the price control list to include 38 new categories of food and 14 categories of medicines.
The move was at first met with opposition from both sectors, but the government later reached a price control deal with pharmacies that ended last month.
With respect to the government’s negotiations with food retailers, they have remained ongoing.
Food retailers have previously warned that the expanded price control regime could be “the last straw” for small and medium-sized food stores.
In protest of the changes, some retailers last year failed to adjust their prices to reflect the new margins.
Their outright rejection prompted the government to order inspectors to go out and assess stores to see if they had implemented the changes.
Yesterday, Mr Halkitis said officials are seeking to beef up manpower in the price control department and have already started training in that area.
“Some of you who cover business might know that we’ve been doing since Monday training for our price control and consumer affairs personnel. They have had four days of training today (Thursday)," he told reporters.
“They are actually out in the field because I had said that during the period of the expanded price control regulations, what we were doing was making sure that we put more people in the department, training them up to make sure that when we revert to the old margins or when we come up with a new solution, we have enough people properly trained and equipped who can go out there to do the inspections.”
During his mid-year budget communication in the House of Assembly Wednesday, Prime Minister Phillip “Brave” Davis acknowledged that price controls are unnecessary in “a perfect market” but said that The Bahamas was far from achieving such status.
He said the government has a role to protect consumers from abuse and committed them to doing just that.
“This government came under sustained and unwarranted criticism for our efforts to assist and protect consumers through the expansion of items under price control. We acknowledge that, in a perfect market, price controls are unnecessary,” Mr Davis told the House of Assembly.
“But The Bahamas is not a perfect market. Many of those who shout loudly about the virtues of the free market themselves participate in monopolies, duopolies, oligopolies and other non-competitive practices. In all areas, the government has a critical role to play in protecting consumers from market abuse.
“We will not flinch or shirk our responsibilities.”