President of the Supermarkets Association of TT Rajiv Diptee says while there has been several incidents of price gouging since the emergence of covid19, the association has no power to stop it.
Globally, the pandemic has sent millions into panic buying, stocking up in food and cleaning supplies as many have opted to self-quarantine to stop the spread of the virus.
"We are seeing it happening in the rural areas. People who buy out sanitiser and Lysol go to rural areas and are marking up the prices, they bussing price. The association is asking if you see somebody with unscrupulous pricing to please call the Fair Trading Commission. We don't have the authority from Government to punish anybody, but the Fair Commission can. We take a watchdog approach. We look at it, but we cannot prevent it because we are not the Government arm. We can monitor, all our members are respected supermarkets and they are leaders in their communities, but where there is this extreme paranoia right now, customers will pay over the top for supplies."
Even though many companies and manufacturers have been shutting down, causing concern about the supply of food for many countries, Diptee said TT was okay for now, and people should not panic buy.
"We have stock for the time. We have some shortages in the market and those we have identified and we have put in our order to restock with our suppliers. There are trade disruptions in terms of our traditional shipping routes, traditional suppliers, but we have been alternative suppliers. What this may mean is that there may probably be some delays in getting the stocks here and, in addition to that, the Supermarket Association has been working with the business and manufacturing sub-committee that was chaired by Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon. We want to commend the Prime Minister and the Trade Minister for ensuring the foreign exchange for those goods have been put in place."
Diptee said the association has put together its stored food items to ensure the food security of the customers. He advised citizens to continue shopping as normal.
"The panic buying that took place it would have been a cut back to our stocks a little bit so we just want to advise people that we have stocks, don't worry. The concern right now is getting the stock back in on time. Panic buying is going to create a shortage.
"That is going to cut back on our cover and the cover of our suppliers in their warehouses. It is now about restocking and trying to get the goods back in. The reality is that is the situation right now."
Diptee said the shortage right now was in cleaning products and hand sanitisers."It is just a question of identifying the different of trade, where we will be getting our shipments from. Globally it is a flow situation because other countries are having problems at their ports and factories and there is a certain sense of allocation because it is not just us, but other countries running short as well. It is a very complex situation that we are working with and that is why the Prime Minister had to step in and ensure there is enough foreign currency allocation for the importers and that is definitely something that is being worked on right now. We do trade with a number of countries and we are always looking for the best prices."For example, if we were getting sugar from Guyana, if we have a situation we would get it from Belize, or the United States, but they also have shortages over there so you would have to go down the supply chain to look for goods and you are getting them at different prices so it is a really complex web of interaction."Diptee said while there has been some changes in prices, citizens should not judge the supermarkets too harshly.
"There are some delinquents who are taking advantage of the situation where there are perceived to be shortages. You have to understand that the supply chain is not just to supermarkets. There are sup pilers in the background, wholesalers, third parties, and they would be adjusting their prices. If we go to buy the goods from them, if I was buying a case of sanitiser for $200 and somebody comes and sells a case for $500, you can imagine what I would have to sell it back for and then they will tell me I am price gouging.
We are looking at suppliers and their prices and their prices are changing. They are also concerned about their cover in their warehouses to ensure that they have enough goods. In terms of prices, some things have gone up, and remember where they are buying he goods from globally, traditionally they would have been getting it for a certain price, and now it is a different price, so there will be some impact on prices."
Former president of the association, importer and owner of ADM Balliram Maharaj was reluctant to say what were the shortages, but did say he was seeing a drastic reduction in goods coming in.
"There is a problem in the ports, there are stringent restrictions and we are calling on the Trade Minister to assist. This is not a normal situation from panicking. There is panic buying and I don't want there to be an opening for aggressiveness and mobbing. We have to be careful what we say. Yes, we have have to speak around the truth, but to avoid panic and looting. We have some shortages, but once we stop panicking and overbuying, there will not be a problem."