Minister Urges Patience with NSRL

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There’s been some ease in prices with the removal of National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), the last administration’s controversial tax, but not fast enough, consumers tell Barbados TODAY.

But the new Government’s Minister for Commerce is urging consumers to give supermarkets and other traders a little more time before they expect a reduction on all items that once attracted the dreaded tax.

While the NSRL, which was introduced by the Democratic Labour Party administration at two per cent in 2016 before being hiked to ten per cent a year later, applied to all imports and locally manufactured goods for local consumption, it was not to be charged on the almost 300 Value Added Tax-free basket of goods.

With the removal of the tax effective July 1 this year the prices on the basket of goods were not expected to reflect a decrease.

Sherry-Ann Thorington told Barbados TODAY while she believed prices could be lower following the removal of the NSRL, she was satisfied that prices on some items were already reduced including the price on baby formula.

“It has dropped. Everything hasn’t dropped and we would like to see more decrease,” said Thorington, who was shopping at the Kendal Hill, Christ Church, Popular Discount supermarket.

With the new tax measures introduced in the June 11 mini budget, Thorington told Barbados TODAY she understood it had to be taken in order to help bring the economy back to a sustainable level of growth.

But singling out the new Health Service Contribution levy of 2.5 per cent – 1.5 per cent paid by employers and one per cent by employees – to take effect October 1, Thorington said this was “a bit harsh”.

While public servants received a five per cent increase and the NSRL has been removed, the wage increase would go right back into the new taxes, Thorington said.

“We are really not getting an increase when we get taxes taken out of it. So hopefully sooner rather than later, when we are out of debt we can get something else,” the monthly grocery shopper told Barbados TODAY, adding that she only bought what she needed.

“Every month is not the same. Sometimes I buy less or I would buy more so it is not a set budget now when it comes to budget shopping because you have to make sure you pay bills first,” she added.

Shirley Burke, who was shopping at the Emerald City supermarket in St Philip, said she was satisfied that prices had been reduced on “certain items” since the removal of the NSRL.

“Last week I came in Emerald City and I went to buy a laundry detergent and I see $9 something. I usually see it for $11 something for a bottle, but when I came in here I actually bought two. I said ‘wait, the prices drop?’ but certain things still up that I looking for them to come down, but otherwise the prices are coming down okay to me,” she said.

Arundell Forde, who was doing shopping at the Emerald City supermarket in St Philip, told Barbados TODAY he believed some supermarkets were reducing the cost on some products while adding it to others.

“I know the NSRL is being removed but the owners of the [shops]they know the trick in this system. If I know I have a tin of milk here selling for $3, I know the NSRL will be removed now and this is going to drop to $2.50 or $2.75, but I am going to raise it to $3.50 [before the removal of the NSRL]. So whenever it [the NSRL]is dropped it comes back to square one,” he added.

But after touring local supermarket chains Popular Discount and Emerald City, Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce Dwight Sutherland told reporters that customers should give the supermarket operators more time to sell old stock before they could see the full reduction in prices on items that previously attracted the NSRL.

“So we are seeing some movement in the prices as a result of the removal of the 10 per cent [NRSL], but you must recognize that after three months you won’t see a full 100 per cent in reduction because we have prices that were introduced as a result of the 10 per cent levy and we want to give the supermarkets a chance to move their stock,” Sutherland said.

He pledged that his ministry, through the Department of Commerce, would continue to monitor prices.

“Through the Department of Commerce, we started our analysis and survey. The NSRL came off the July 1. So, we have three months July, August and September – so we have until about the end of September. I think three to four months is a reasonable time.

“Having said that we have seen some prices move. So we will continue to do our surveys and I am hoping that this visit will be the first to signal to the supermarket owners that we would like to see some reduction in prices to benefit consumers. We are not telling them how to price their products but . . . I think we will see a reduction on the food prices on the shelves in all the supermarkets in this country,” he said.

Thursday’s visit to the supermarkets formed part of a series of scheduled courtesy calls to take place over the next three weeks by the Ministry in order to reach out to the retail and wholesale sector in an effort to see how they operate and what their needs were.

The Ministry of Commerce is focused on ensuring that supermarkets were adhering to high standards in relation to labelling Sutherland said.

He said he was pleased with the quality of products seen on the shelves of supermarkets in recent times and the numbers of local products, adding that the Ministry was trying to “mitigate against substandard goods”.

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