-Gov’t debunks reports of scarcity of country’s staple on local market

MONROVIA – The Government of Liberia (GoL) through Commerce and Industry Minister, Mawine G. Diggs, has debunked widely circulated reports of scarcity of the country’s staple – rice, on the local market.

At a well-attended press conference held at her ministerial complex Commerce Ministry offices over the weekend, Commerce Minister Diggs stated categorically that contrary to reports that rice was scarce on the local market, Liberia’s staple was still in huge stock, and that there is no need for panic.

“I want to state clearly, that there is absolutely no shortage of rice on the market, and therefore, there is no need for panic-buying, as we have observed,” Minister Diggs stressed.

She disclosed that the wholesale price of rice in the country remains at 13 United States Dollars, adding that “there is a sufficient stock of rice in the country.”

Howbeit, quoting reports reaching the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Minister Diggs stated that there are individual businesses in the country that are selling rice at exorbitant prices, and in some cases, hording Liberia’s staple – thus, creating an artificial scarcity on the market.

But she noted that in efforts to mitigate or determine the veracity of such reports, the Inspectorate Bureau of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, will shortly deploy inspectors across the country, to enforce the approved prices of all commodities on the local market.

“It is important to note that collectively, the five major importers of rice, which are SWAT, K&K, UCI, Futa and Fuani, have approached the Government of Liberia on the need to increase the price of rice by two United States Dollars, as a result of multiple global supply chains challenges; particularly, the drastic increase in frit charges,” the Minister of Commerce noted, however, she stated that the rice importers have committed to continue the wholesale of rice to local retailers.

She pointed out that as part of its mandate, the Ministry of Commerce and industry have been closely monitoring the global economic shock due to the Covid-19 pandemic, indicating that as a result, in January of this year, the Ministry’s Bureau of Trade began closely monitoring frit increases along with importers, to specifically include rice importers.

Minister Diggs: “Therefore, we can verify that there has been a significant increase in the cost of frit, which has direct impact on the trade and commerce of our country. This is clearly reflected in the local market in terms of availability and pricing of commodities on the market.”

But she hastened to have said that the GoL has taken note of this, and is currently engaging with the five major importers of rice in the country, as well as with all relevant stakeholders, to ensure that rice remains available and affordable.

“The Ministry of Commerce and Industry encourages all retailers, to buy and sell as normal, and be reassured that there is no shortage, and the Government of Liberia is taking all necessary steps, to ensure that they continue to conduct business as usual.”

She emphasized that government is cognizant of the high cost of rice in neighboring countries, which she said ranges from 17 United States Dollars to 37 United States Dollars, for a 25kg bag of rice, adding, “Therefore, it is important that rice bought at the current wholesale price of 13 United States Dollars within the borders of Liberia, are not sold or traded across into neighboring countries, in an attempt to make a significant profit margin.”

She called on Liberians to report to the Commerce Ministry any incident of hike in the price of rice or hording of the commodity by those she described as unscrupulous individuals.

“To all citizens, you are asked to notify the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of any incident of price hike or hording within the market. Your corporation and support is critical in ensuring the control of prices on the market,” she said.

Commerce Minister Diggs used the occasion to provide information on the regulatory processes surrounding the importation of commodities into Liberia, including frozen products.

She said as the regulatory body for trade, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry utilizes the Import Notification Form or INF, as a means of ensuring that goods brought into the country and traded on the local market, meet health, safety and industrial standards required for utilization and consumption.

She added that the Import Notification Form regime also requires that those with the desire to import perishable commodities, particularly, frozen products, must have the capacity to store, and the ability to sell within the lifespan of such products.

“Let it be made clear that the market is open to all interested in trading, provided that they meet the regulations, as provided by law,” she stated, adding that “To address specific concerns regarding frozen products, it is important for the public to know that these commodities have a wholesome lifespan of maximum two months to be deemed fit for consumption.”

She asserted that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is tasked with the responsibility to ensure the health of the general population, and therefore, the quantity of frozen products brought into the country on a monthly basis, are approved to meet the overall market consumption, as determined by the Ministry of Commerce, noting that “This allows us to ensure that the burden of expired products being sold does not shift from importers to local marketers and the innocent consumers – thus, preventing any potential health crisis that may arise.”

“There is also, no shortage of frozen products on the local market,” Minister Diggs said.

She intoned that to further ensure the free flow of trade, and the rightful participation of Liberians in the retailing of all goods as prescribed by law, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has notified those involved with importing distributing, and retailing of commodities in the commerce of Liberia, of their violation of Sections 9.1 and 9.2 of Article 9, Importer of Record, Part-3 of the Amended General Business Law – Title 14 of Liberian Code of Law Revised.

“The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has taken this measure in order to reinforce the Government of Liberia’s commitment that there will not be an unfair advantage to Liberians involved in retailing,” she stressed.

Hear Minister Diggs: “To conclude, I will like to reassure the public that there is no shortage of rice or frozen products on the market.

Therefore, no one should engage in panic-buying or price-hiking. Marketers are encouraged to buy and sell normally. Importers and distributers are encouraged to sell normally.”

Meanwhile, Commerce Minister Diggs has stated that the GoL will remain engaged with the five major importers of rice in the country, to ensure that the country’s staple – rice, is available and affordable, indicating that the public will be kept informed of these engagements as they progress.

“The Ministry of Commerce and Industry remains committed to its regulatory function of ensuring that goods brought into the country meet health, safety and industrial standards required for utilization and consumption, she said, adding, “Moving forward, the inspectorate Bureau of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry would conduct robust inspection across the country to ensure compliance.”

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