Proposed electricity rates as suggested by the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) at a media conference at the Hilton Trinidad, Port of Spain, on Thursday. – ROGER JACOB
THE Fair Trade Commission says it is aware of high prices for goods and services, especially food, faced by customers due to inflation, and knows when electricity rates increase, it will add to the already high cost of living.
In a release, the commission reminded business owners that they are under no obligation to increase the prices of their goods to cater to the increase of electricity rates. Businessmen should bear in mind that prices must be competitive.
In an e-mail correspondence with Newsday, commission head Bevan Narinesingh said, “If the commission has suspicion that there may be a potential breach of the act (the Fair Trading Act), it will launch a formal investigation.
“This may potentially include situations where suppliers or distributors agree among themselves to pass on the extra costs of doing business (whatever the reasons for these extra costs) directly to customers which is prohibited under the act.”
He added that even though the commission has this authority, it is not responsible for determining the cost of goods and services or dictating final prices suppliers can charge.
Under the Fair Trading Act, though, businesses considered anti-competitive could be bound by the courts to pay a maximum penalty of ten per cent of their annual turnover.
The commission’s release also said, “Accordingly, any anti-competitive agreement or co-ordinated action by enterprises to pass on any increase in utility or other costs to consumers will amount to a violation of the provisions of the Fair Trading Act.
“Businesses must allow fair competition to determine whether or not there will be any increase in the final price.”
Narinesingh said while it’s monitoring the food prices with the help of the Consumer Affairs Division, the commission has reached out to certain entities seeking justifications on their pricing.
“The commission has in the past reached out to manufacturers/distributors/suppliers to ascertain the reason(s) and rationale for price increases with them being asked to provide supporting documentation with the objective being to determine whether these increased prices are the result of anti-competitive practices such as collusion, illegal price-fixing, allocation of market arrangements or abuse of monopoly power all of which are prohibited under the Fair Trading Act.”
He also added that the commission can also “urge suppliers to keep prices as low as possible and has done so in the past.”
He reminded that the commission has an investigatory, enforcement, advocacy and public education role pursuant to its functions under the act.