The country’s most vocal consumer rights advocate is warning Barbadians to prepare for steep price rises in the coming months, predicting that some consumer goods could climb by as much as 60 per cent.
With reports emerging that supermarkets would likely pass increases in some shipping costs out of the United States on to consumers, Director General of the Barbados Consumers Research Organization Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt said he anticipated that retailers would treble the amount they would pass on to consumers.
Ocean transportation company Seaboard Marine has served notice that the US domestic fuel surcharge will increase to 23 per cent effective March 1, 2018 from the major ports in the US, an increase it said its costumers would be asked to meet.
“If it is going to cost them 23 per cent you know it is going to cost us 60 per cent,” Gibbs-Taitt said.
News of the increase followed an earlier statement on the company’s website, in which it had advised of a general rate increase to and from select countries in the Caribbean effective January 7, 2018.
Countries affected included Anguilla, Antigua, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts, St Lucia, St Maarten, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Tortola.
The increase was applicable to all tariff and service contracts, it said, pointing out that the cost to the 20 foot container would go up by US$100, the 40 foot container would increase by US$200, the 45 foot container by US$225.
It had also said vehicles not exceeding 750 cubic feet would go up by $60 and the rate for vehicles exceeding that measurement would rise by “$4.24 weight or measure”.
There were also increases in bulk and “less-than-container load” of $4.24 also based on weight or measure.
Consumers here have already had to face a 5.5 per cent rise in the cost of goods because of austerity measures announced by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler last May, and which came into effect in July.
These included the much hated National Social Responsibility Levy, which increased from two to ten per cent of the customs value of locally produced and imported goods, hikes in the excise duty on petrol and a two per cent tax on foreign exchange transactions.
Gibbs-Taitt said it was time Barbadians form an association to “agitate” on their behalf and pushback against such increases, stressing that he could not do it alone.
“Fundamentally, we need some vibrancy in the consumer movement. We need somebody who can agitate to get people to hold off their attacks. That is what you need in the marketplace right now.
“The consumers in Barbados are not interested in themselves. I on my own cannot do it. What we need is a concerted effort for consumers to get together and in large numbers and we can become so powerful that we could even close down supermarkets. That is how serious it is,” he said.
Gibbs-Taitt added that an association would also help consumers take control of their spending money by bypassing the supermarkets and going directly to overseas suppliers.
“It is very simple. You buy from the same places that the supermarkets buy from. It means that the way the supermarkets would have to come and put a mark up we wouldn’t have to do a mark up,” he said.
“Even if there is a rise in prices that we can do nothing about, the point is that we would have no option but to pay those rises, but the same way we would have to pay them and a supermarket would have to pay them for example, when that supermarket pays them it is going to put three times that for profits. We don’t have to do that. We can deal with the matter ourselves, but it needs a concerted attempt by people to get together and pool our resources,” the consumer rights advocate stressed.
The International Monetary Fund warned in a statement last week that the Barbados economy, which recorded about one per cent growth last year, was slowing down and was expected to record growth of only 0.5 per cent this year.
It also pointed out that “inflation is projected to rise by year end to 5.5 per cent as a result of recent tax increases but return to its historical norm in the medium term”.
Imports of consumer goods fell by an estimated 7.7 per cent during the second half of last year after growing by 2.4 per cent in the first half of the year.
It is estimated that imports of consumer goods will continue to decline as a result of Government’s tax measures, which were designed to achieve just that, in order to help lower the fiscal deficit and prop up foreign reserves.