By Awa B. Bah
The Minister of Trade, Regional Integration and Employment Dr. Isatou Touray has asserted that the Gambia operates a free market economy and a liberal trading environment, where prices of goods and services are determined by forces of demand and supply.
Trade Minister Touray made these assertions at the National Assembly on Friday 29th September 2017, in response to a question raised by Hon. Lamin F.M Conta, Member for Kombo East. The Member demanded an oral response from the Minister regarding her ministry’s plan to reduce the prices of basic commodities such as rice, sugar, oil and so forth.
In providing the oral response to Hon. Conta’s question, Dr. Touray said Government has the obligation of ensuring fair competition as well as protecting consumers from unfair trade practices.
In cognizant of this, she said MOTIE established the Gambia Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to ensure that commodities are traded fairly and competitively in the domestic markets.
Continuing with her response, she said Government continues to show concern about the prices of essential commodities such as rice, sugar and oil, tomato paste, milk, onions, chicken legs and the whole chicken.
This she noted, is the reason why MOTIE has a policy of engaging the major importers and retailers to keep the price and stock levels stable.
Her Ministry she went on, is mandated to continue to monitor the prices of essential commodities on a weekly basis and the objective of the monitoring exercise she said, is to ensure price stability and stock availability.
Dr. Touray indicated that the Gambia being a net importer of rice, sugar, and oil has no ability to influence the price of these commodities in the international markets and thus remains a price taker.
She said the analysis of the international price of the said commodities (World Bank Index Mundi) over the last 6 months, indicated an increase of about 4.5% for rice from April to date and 5.1% for edible oil from April to date.
For sugar, she said the analysis does indicate a fall in international prices from February to date with the exception of sugar; that the trend of increase in the prices of rice and sugar are on the rise and thus the increase in the domestic price of the said commodities.
Dr. Isatou Touray stated that one of the determinants of prices of imported commodities is the foreign exchange rate and therefore appreciation in foreign exchange influence the prices of the essential commodities upwards while the depreciation allows the downward movement of prices.
In view of this, she said MOTIE occasionally engages the Central Bank to ensure the availability of foreign currency to facilitate the importation of essential commodities at affordable prices; that it is important to note that the exchange rate regime of the Gambia, is a managed float and it is determined by forces of demand and supply in the market.
Dr. Touray asserted that Government has already taken the decision to lift all restrictions and moratorium that were imposed on the importation of essential commodities during the previous regime; that the aim of Government is to ensure that prices of essential commodities starts to come down.
She concluded by saying that Government also keeps VAT on essential commodities at zero rate and some of them have either low or zero duty.
“All these are attempts to influence the price of commodities downwards,” she concluded.