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Government expands basic food basket of grocery items; importers will be better regulated

Stolen food items (Placencia village)

Posted: Wednesday, July 5, 2023. 6:00 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: An additional 34 items will be regulated under the revised Supplies Control Act as announced by Cabinet.

In remarks at the House of Representatives, Minister of Human Development Dolores Balderamos-Garcia observed, “Many families struggle to make ends meet, particularly when it comes to putting food on the table, and the rising prices of essential food items has eroded the purchasing power of households and has put a strain on their overall wellbeing. It is our duty, I believe, as representatives of the people to address the issue and find practical solutions that will make a positive impact on their daily lives, and this is what our government is seeking to do.”

She particularly cited an anecdote of a friend who witnessed an elderly woman at a supermarket buying two packs of Ramen chicken-flavored noodles and a pound of flour. “We have to try to help our poorest people. Before this expansion of regulated goods was made, there was no markup cap” on the list of items, according to the Minister; now, this wider range of items will be regulated and their prices stabilized, guarding against price gouging. She cited colleague Minister of Agriculture Jose Mai for joining her Ministry in coming up with the list of items to be regulated. She also called for more eating of fruits and vegetables to support a healthy diet.

The list is as follows. Items with a fifteen percent markup in retail, all food items, are butter, evaporated milk, eggs, baby cereals, infant formula, creamers, cocoa powder, corn flour, other beans in addition to red kidney beans, oats, cereals and cornflakes, chicken sausages, corned beef, tuna, baking powder, yeast, cooking oil, shortening, chicken cuts, ground beef, carrots, onions, cabbage, sweet pepper, potato, tomato, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, condensed milk, and five-gallon bottled water.

Non-food items with a 20 percent retail markup are feminine hygiene products and tampons, rubbing alcohol, soap (bars), toilet paper, soap powder, fabric softener, liquid detergent, deodorant, baby oil, petroleum jelly, baby wipes, and toothpaste.

It was not made clear whether the markup includes general sales tax (GST) of 12.5 percent, which would reduce profit margins, although some of the above items are zero-rated under GST and feminine hygiene products no longer carry GST.

Later, Prime Minister John Briceño spoke of an item not included above which is just as important – fuel. While he noted that the Government did not have to borrow from the Central Bank to offset fuel increases as originally planned, it still lost – “gave up” as the Prime Minister put it – $30 million. “We are reducing the price slowly, not fast enough – a bit – but we’re trying to get back a little bit of that money so that we can continue to do the work of the government.”

As for the food basket expansion, the P.M. noted that “…we import our inflation because most of the items that we consume, we import. So whenever inflation goes up in the United States, it affects us here in Belize.” The firm caps on prices will be accompanied by reviews with importers as to their pricing to remove items from Customs and Excise versus what is on the store shelves. With the support of the trade unions, there will be a ticketing system to combat price gouging and training of support staff for the Supplies Control Unit as well as an updated WhatsApp hotline for consumer protection.

 

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