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Grocers not ready

By NEWSDAY STAFF Wednesday, November 14 2012

THE removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) from thousands of food items comes into effect tomorrow but many supermarkets and groceries are not at all ready for implementation. A check at groceries and supermarkets along the east-west corridor indicated while some proprietors were ready many more were waiting on the list of items and further information.

Manager (Operations) at Rodney’s Supermarket in Arima, Brian Astor, said a list was received from the Supermarkets Association but the, “language from the document is so ambiguous it is not funny.”

“You have to figure out what they are trying to say and then deduce. It is not clear cut.

Supermarkets are placed in an uncomfortable position. Prices are a touchy issue. And we have to interact with customers,” Astor said.

The supermarket is trying to sort out the list to start implementation in time for tomorrow, but Astor said that not enough planning went into the process and discussions only started after the budget.

General Manager of Hi-Lo’s St Augustine branch, Rhonda Birmingham, told Newsday that on Thursday, “for sure”, the change in prices would be reflected on goods on shelves and at the cash registers. The outlet was on Monday, awaiting a list of items to be VAT-less from its head office.

Janelle Lee Chee Kong of Wang Li and Sons Ltd on Charlotte Street, Port-of-Spain, said, “we are waiting. We have not seen anything as yet. The prices the same thing as before.”

Kerry Chen of CNL Wholesale and Retail also of Charlotte Street said, “we have to sell out the old stock before we re-price. We will adjust the price according to the suppliers.”

Yee’s Family Supermarket proprietor Yenny Yee Fong, told Newsday, “we have not bought any new goods as yet. When we buy the goods we will know how to adjust the prices based on the cost the supplier sells to us.”

Speaking to Newsday at Hi Lo’s St Augustine branch customers Gabriel and Marla Jack said they were looking forward to the removal of VAT since the cost of living is high. Allison Joel, a retired schoolteacher from Santa Cruz, said the removal of VAT from food should encourage more shopping but will not necessarily improve the cost of living. “Either you can afford to live or you cannot,” Joel said.

Another shopper, Natasha Arcia of Laventille, said, “I expect my grocery bill to be a lot lower on Thursday.” Told that some groceries may not be implementing the price adjustments come tomorrow, because of a lack of information regarding what food items would be VAT zero-rated, Arcia said it is unfair for customers since many have been waiting for the VAT to be removed to improve their purchasing power.

Ledson Phillips of Beetham Gardens said she had her doubts that the VAT removal would improve her spending power. “I don’t think it will lower the cost of food at any time. As far as the prices go, people selling grocery items can do whatever they want with the prices. There just isn’t any proper control and enforcement mechanism in place.”

Patricia Edwards, a CEPEP worker said she expects prices to be increased after the removal of VAT.

Speaking to Newsday from his Tunapuna constituency office on Monday after distributing food cards, hampers and wheelchairs, Minister of Legal Affairs Prakash Ramadhar said that supermarkets have agreed to put up a before and after list of prices and officials from his ministry would be monitoring the process.

Prices, he added, would be tracked from the source of the goods anywhere in the world and tracked to show the transport costs and profit margins on items. “So the population and consumers would know if they are treated fairly or not,” Ramadhar said.

He added that TT does not as yet have price control legislation and it is up to consumers working with the Consumer Affairs Division to highlight instances of price gouging. “We have put the prices down on our website and we are asking the media to please alert the population,” he said.

He also highlighted the powers under the Fair Trade Act 2007, which was passed in 2007 but is not in effect. Ramadhar has spoken to the Trade Minister Vasant Bharath on giving “full effect” to the Act.

“The Act provides for the creation of a Fair Trades Commission which has legal authority to investigate price fixing, cartels and unfair trade practices. Where evidence of that is found, to have such instances brought before the High Court which has very strict powers to impose severe fines against such perpetrators. We see this as a necessary way forward in protecting our people, our consumers from abuse in the market place.”

Until the Fair Trade Act can be put in effect, the Ministry will rely on “name and shame” and market forces. Consumers can inform the ministry of price gouging via phone lines, e-mails at its website. Ramadhar said, “If we are to have a fair and open market, it must be fair and open to have balance in the market place and information is power.”

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