BUSINESSMAN Balliram Maharaj is concerned that as a result of ongoing challenges posed by the covid19 pandemic, there could be a drastic increase in food prices.
The CEO of ADM Distributors, a former Supermarket Association president, expressed his concern in a statement and during a subsequent virtual news conference on Wednesday.
Maharaj said neither the Government nor the supermarkets are to blame for any possible increase in food prices. But he said Government and the private sector should work together to do what they can to mitigate the impact of any increases on consumers.
Maharaj was concerned that consumers could feel this impact this month, if they have not started to experience it already. He said there have been steep increases in the prices of imported food items in the last six months.
The prices of pigtails, canned corned beet, yellow split peas and lentils, brown sugar and canned tuna increased by 74, 36, 34, 25 and 15 per cent respectively during that period, he said. There were also increases in the prices of condensed milk, evaporated milk, margarine and butter by 18, 15, 16 and five per cent respectively in the last six months.
Maharaj also said there is a challenge with respect to shipping foodstuffs and other products into Trinidad and Tobago, claiming some shipping agents are requesting payment in US currency for freight and terminal handling charges at TT's ports. Failure to pay those charges, he said, results in shipments not being released from the port and importers incurring additional charges before they can be cleared.
"By our calculation, food prices have increased tremendously since the beginning of the pandemic due to these factors and the scarcity in available foreign exchange."
Maharaj said he recently wrote to Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon highlighting these and other issues.
He also said lower production of other food imports such as soybean oil, pork tails and red beans could see food prices increase 40-50 per cent from last year.
Market forces and not price controls, he argued, should be used to determine what food items people buy and where they buy them.
"We have the power in our pocket."