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Bigger basket

Gercine Carter

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Government’s basket of goods, which represents staples for an ordinary family, is to be expanded.
There are 49 food items and 20 non-food items in the basket, but given the current tough economic circumstances, Minister of Trade and Commerce Senator Haynesley Benn intends to put in more goods.
“We are looking at expanding that basket and very shortly we will be presenting to Cabinet a paper seeking to expand the basket of goods,” Benn said.
Subject to Cabinet’s approval some existing items would not attract duty, and be zero-rated, meaning no VAT would be paid on them, while additional basket items would also be free of VAT.
For example, some items which Benn called the “key basic items” such as chicken, sliced ham, corned beef, sausages, baby powder, baby diapers, toilet paper and sanitary napkins, were still attracting VAT.
The minister said he also wanted to pay special attention to items he described as “health foods”.
“We have to recommend that a lot of those items which are used by persons who are ill, persons who are incapacitated, persons who are old, physically challenged, which are still fetching VAT, can reach those people at a level that they can afford.”
Benn added he intended to have some health food items removed from the VAT.
The minister also challenged  businesses to keep prices at a reasonable level.
He said he was monitoring a lot of the commodities which, under the Miscellaneous Controls Act had specific markups on retail and wholesale prices.
“I am not satisfied that the wholesalers and retailers are sticking to these prices which have been approved by Parliament and are already on the statute book,” he said.
“When we go out there and do some sampling in the various supermarkets, I find that these recommended markups are thrown through the window and some of the markups on some of these prices are sometimes three to four times higher and that has in many ways contributed to the increased cost of living.”
Benn said that his ministry had the responsibility to ensure that prices are kept “at a good level, but we also have the authority to examine invoices, to request invoices and do our own calculations”.