The zero-rated value added tax (VAT) food list has been prepared and the legal notice, which is being prepared by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, takes effect on November 15.
So said Minister of Legal Affairs Prakash Ramadhar at yesterday's post-Cabinet media conference at the Prime Minister's St Clair office. He said the list would be available to the public since it would be printed in the media, as well as on the Government's website.
Ramadhar said while the free market determines prices, if Government saw a "terrible situation of abuse, it would have to consider what legal avenues would be open to us to deal with that. But in the first instance, we want the market to regulate itself by free trade".
Ramadhar noted there was great concern that prices have been raised in anticipation, which would prevent savings to the consumer that the zero-rating of items was intended to provide.
He said he had a meeting with wholesalers (who represent 22 main importers of food) yesterday, and they agreed to attend a meeting next Wednesday with the Supermarkets Association to discuss concerns such as price-gouging, in the presence of the media and the Prices Council, whose duty is to investigate and verify any statement made by either side.
"Finally, we would have an avenue to find out what the truth is," he said. Ramadhar said statements had been made by both sides—importers and the supermarket owners.
"We believe that the Prices Council has a duty to hear all that in the presence of the media, and the council could investigate the source from which food is brought and track every aspect of the cost—transport costs, customs duty, etc—so that we would have a fair assessment as to the profit margin of certain food items," Ramadhar stated.
He said a free market could only be free if persons reflect the true state of affairs.
Asked what sanctions can be imposed against businesses which have an unfair mark-up in prices, Ramadhar said because of international agreements which removed all price controls, the punitive actions were in the hands of the customers, who had the power of purchase.