There have been no significant rises in food prices over the last three years, a leading merchant community spokesman has suggested.
Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Anthony Branker cited a Department of Commerce price survey to support his contention as he and other panellists discussed the cost of living and food prices on CBC Television current affairs programme, The People’s Business.
The price survey, which was first announced by Minister of Small Business Kerrie Symmonds, reviewed recent price changes on several items. It was seen as a way for Government to keep the business community in check if any overzealous price changes were found but, according to Branker, the initial findings revealed a surprising trend.
He said: “Minister Symmonds would have referred to research that was done, and the trend analysis of prices over 93 categories of basic food items during the period January 2018 up until May 2021, basically suggested that there was no evidence of significant increases in food prices in Barbados.
“On the contrary, the prices of the majority of food items, roughly 76 per cent of those products that were surveyed, declined or were lower than the surveyed period in 2020.”
While acknowledging overseas markets often dictate prices on products here, Branker suggested the ports of entry also need to be addressed to help curb prices. He said importers and other business owners are often left paying additional fees, known as demurrage, adding up to thousands of dollars owing to delays in clearances and storage costs being charged on goods.
Branker explained: “I know personally that the comptroller [at the Bridgetown Port] and his team have been trying their best to be able to move goods through the port as seamlessly and quickly as possible using their risk management resources, but at the same time they are other Government entities that operate through the port, that have not been able to match the pace of the Customs department.
“What happens is, we importers on a daily basis are faced with a charge called demurrage charges, and these demurrage charges are charged by the shipping lines. So imagine that a container arrives on a Monday, and by Thursday morning you have to start paying per day on that container, and you also have to pay throughout a weekend. Any delay in getting containers off the boat is an additional cost to importers that at most times they cannot afford to absorb.”
He stressed that in order for costs on goods to drop noticeably for consumers, Government and the private sector ought to work together in order to remove any policy burdens which have proven to do more harm than good to prices.
Branker said: “Every month, distributors [and] retailers are faced with increased prices from suppliers because as COVID has hit various markets, and we have issues with different weather systems and all sorts of issues with various countries, we are faced with increased prices. (SB)