It is palpably insufficient for the Government, through Minister of Trade Paula Gopee-Scoon, to simply chastise merchants for not reducing their prices now that shipping costs have fallen.
The international causes for the escalation in food prices are well-known. The war in Ukraine, for example, has slowed grain supplies and in some instances cut-off international supply trains.
In Trinidad and Tobago, we have been accustomed to seasonal upward movement of prices when the rains and floods destroy farmers’ crops. On the rebound, they raise the costs of their produce. In so doing, the farmers and vendors operate according to the laws of supply and demand: they mark-up the cost of the fewer items to make-up for losses suffered because of low volume.
We have, however, come to expect that after a few weeks, prices go back to pre-flood levels. Not this time; increased prices have remained high.
Basic items grown here such as pumpkins, tomatoes, chives and other seasonings, ground provisions and a range of fruits are being sold at 100 to 200 per cent higher than previously.
The farmers, and the vendors who buy wholesale from the farmers, make the case that they too have to face higher prices in the supermarkets and stores. Therefore, in order to survive, they match the price increases elsewhere.
The supermarket owners and managers have joined the line. They have hiked their prices reportedly because of the external inflationary spiral.
Understandably, the Trade Minister is not convinced that the supermarket owners are playing fair.
Where the T&T Guardian takes issue with the Minister, however, is her assertion that the Government is without means to alleviate the pressure, especially on fixed-income earners at the middle and lower end of the scale.
In the home of free enterprise, the USA, where the free reign of the market is the Holy Grail, President Joe Biden has intervened on occasions and in several ways to ease the burden of high prices on consumers.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley therefore cannot stand on the sidelines and do nothing.
Prime Minister, you once held the portfolio of minister of agriculture and you are also a farmer. The present is one of those occasions when a leader shows his worth. You, Prime Minister, must get into the gayelle and make a difference; that is one of the reasons why you and your party were elected and re-elected to office; you portrayed yourself and party as having the innovative capacity to fix the problems of society.
The T&T Guardian is advocating that you, Prime Minister, involve the Governor of the Central Bank, the monetary authority, and call on the economists at the University of the West Indies to leave theorising behind and suggest practical solutions. So too, Prime Minister, get the farmers, your ministers of agriculture and trade and anyone else who can conceive of possibilities to assist citizens in these times of need.
All of these individuals and agencies have responsibilities.
They owe the citizens, who have educated, trained and afforded them opportunities to practice their trade and skills, a good deed.
Without serious intervention, however, high and rising prices will become a permanent feature of the economy.