Unfair pricing by some freighting companies could be blamed for the relatively high prices seen on some items on supermarket shelves, Commerce Minister Dwight Sutherland has suggested.
Sutherland has promised that there is to be no letting up by his ministry until there was an ease in consumer prices, especially on basic food items.
Following a tour of the Shopsmart big-box store on Cheapside, St Michael on Wednesday, Sutherland disclosed that some retailers were privileged to a lower shipping cost than others.
But he said he would be meeting with retailers and shipping and freighting companies in an effort to bring costs down.
“I now have to meet with a few of the supermarket owners come January,” he said.
“It is not to bully them. It is to see how best we can work with them as a Government and as key stakeholders in the retail sector so that we can do things that can benefit the consumers. It is providing options and making sure that the competition is fair, not to bully the freighters and shippers. Hopefully we don’t hear the reason we can’t lower prices after January is as a result of the shipping cost. That is my role and we will make sure it happens,” said Sutherland.
Pointing out that his ministry would continue to monitor food prices in order to ensure consumers were not being overcharged, Sutherland said his ministry would also make sure that the products offered to the consumers are properly labeled and they are of high standard.
Sutherland, who has been touring a number of retail stores over the past few months as part of an outreach programme, said freight charges remain one of the retail industry’s bugbears.
Earlier this month, Sutherland noted that despite the removal of the National Social Responsibility Levy (NRSL) which was not applied to the basket of goods, some basic food items were high, and supermarket owners have attributed this to their import costs.
“The CEO of Shopsmart enlightened us this morning with the news that there are some challenges as it relates to shipping…. I will want to use word ‘unfair’ competition as it relates to shipping prices, whereby some retailers in the country are benefiting from low shipping prices than others. This would lead to a disparity that we don’t want to see in the country,” said Sutherland.
“We want to maintain fair pricing and fair competition in this country, and anything that we see that is impacting that negatively, we have to address,” said Sutherland, who said his permanent secretary, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs officials and personnel of the Barbados National Standards Institution will meet some of the shipping lines to ask them to be fair.
“Don’t offer lower rates to just two or three persons and the others are disadvantaged with high shipping costs, because what that does is increase the cost of goods,” he said.