Rising prices of commodities raise questions about ‘monopoly’

People shop at Al-Sukkar Market, in downtown Amman, in this recent photo (Photo: Ameer Khalifa/JNews)
AMMAN –– A lawmaker on Saturday said that cases of monopoly are “quite noticeable these days,” blaming food importers who raised the prices of essential foods.اضافة اعلان

MP Amal Al-Shaqran, member of the Lower House’s investment and economy committee, told Jordan News that “big merchants are taking over the Jordanian markets, and this is not the first time. They did it at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when face masks’ prices were hiked from JD0.25 to JD2 or 3.”

“Not only did the government fail to step in, but it also used the same excuses the traders have been flooding us with, claiming that the price hikes are triggered by rising costs in the countries of origin, which is not true at all,” Shaqran said.

“Merchants are taking advantage of our people before the holy month Ramadan, to offset what they have lost because of the curfew and Friday lockdowns [imposed to curb the spread of the pandemic],” she charged.

The lawmaker reflected similar statements issued by the panel last week, when Minister of Industry, Trade and Supply Maha Al-Ali was summoned to the committee meeting. In remarks to the press following the meeting, Shaqran said: “We have enough essential food items in stock and supply that could feed the Kingdom for 6 months. Why would the government allow raising the prices of items that we already have? Only import the items we are short of and if there were higher importing costs, let the hikes in prices be reasonable.”

The MPS estimated the rise at 40-70 percent.

Head of the committee, Khalid Abu Hassan, insisted during the meeting, according to a statement posted on the House’s website, that the government needs to take immediate action. He also claimed that there is “monopoly” of essential food items by major traders “that is getting out of control”.

Economic analyst, Youssef Mohammad Damra, agreed that there are cases when price increases are unjustified, but differed with the lawmakers on the terminology.

“We can call it market exploitation, but not monopoly. These traders have in stock commodities they bought before their costs increased on international markets and they are selling them at high prices,” Damra told Jordan News.

Mohmmad Obeidat, head of the National Society of Consumer Protection, told Al-Ghad earlier that Jordan, like the rest of the world, is going through exceptional circumstances due to the COVID pandemic, and this should be a motive for the public, and private sectors along with civil society to work together during Ramadan to ensure that all essential commodities are available on the market at reasonable prices.

For consumers shopping in downtown Amman, the suffering continues.

Hanan Awaisheh, a 50-year-old single mother told Jordan News what is happening “is not fair, especially with to the minimum wage paychecks we receive in Jordan, and now that Ramadan is around the corner, these price hikes are the straw that broke our backs. We have bills, taxes, rent, schools, and children to look after. This is a disaster; the government needs to intervene.”

An owner of a chain grocery store, who prefers anonymity, said there is a noticeably lower demand on products the prices of which went up. However, he insisted that his company is playing “fair and square” and nothing can be changed.

“These items, especially vegetables oil, are filling our warehouse. The problem is that we imported them at higher prices, and cannot sell them for less than the new prices,” the owner told Jordan News.

Jordan’s Chamber of Commerce announced on its official website on Sunday that they sent an official letter to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Supply, justifying the increase of many food items, claiming that prices have increased in the countries of origin, in addition to the recent international doubled-up shipping fares and expenses.

“The skyrocketing increase in vegetable oil prices will not only affect the item’s price by itself, but the entire food-related industries and sectors. Naturally, the prices of popular local foods that were set by the government will automatically increase, like bread, falafel, sandwiches and many more,” MP Shaqran added.

The committee sent its recommendations to the House, demanding a reduction of the 16-percent sales tax to 10- 11 percent for all essential food items, regardless of the state of origin. The panel also recommended lowering customs fees and adjusting prices in a way that would not severely affect average citizens’ budgets.

The MPs also called for easing the costs of energy and power for factories producing basic food commodities, especially cooking oil factories, monitoring the markets to prevent monopoly, and determining an effective plan for the stocks of essential food items for at least one full year.

The committee also encouraged the government to support both the Military Consumer Corporation, and Civilian Consumer Corporation, because these corporations sell their goods below the market’s price support citizens financially.