SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - The Ministry of Tourism Economic Affairs Telecommunication and Transportation (TEATT), met with the major wholesalers and suppliers of food on St. Maarten to discuss supply and demand amidst the challenges faced relating to the COVID -19 threat.
On March 12, 2020 representatives of ESF-10 namely the Secretary General of the Ministry of TEATT - Mr. Miguel de Weever, Head of the Department of Economy, Transportation & Telecommunication - Mrs. Valya Pantophlet, Senior Policy Advisor - Mr. Shervin Frederick and Mr. Mark Schloss of the Ministry of VSA met with the major wholesalers & suppliers of food on St Maarten. Present at the meeting was Mr. Umesh of Prime Distributors, Mr. Larson of Cost-U-Less and Mr. Huang of Sunny Food.
During the meeting, several topics were discussed and these included the following:
- merchandise/stock levels;
- pricing i.e. maximum prices, and steps taken to avoid price gouging;
- the importance of maintaining high stock levels;
- challenges experienced with the supply of products and transportation.
The Wholesalers made it very clear that there was sufficient stock of food items and that the main challenges faced related to goods that were in high demand globally such as Hand Sanitizers and hygiene products.
As previously mentioned, the discussions included stock levels and the main types of food which needed to be maintained at sufficient levels. These food items such as rice, pasta, canned goods/food, etc which were previously identified as key items during the hurricane season, are expected to be maintained at high levels.
With regards to supply and transportation, enquiries were made into challenges faced with the re-ordering of goods and the transportation/shipping of the aforementioned goods. We do recognize that this is a global problem and many countries are buying the same items. As an alternative to address this problem, some of the wholesalers are looking at purchasing in countries where the problem has not affected them such as South America.
Linked to the supply of goods is the pricing of the goods as it is imperative that we try and maintain prices at an affordable and reasonable level. To ensure this, adherence to the established maximum prices was also emphasized of which they understood and agreed.
As we recognize that the pricing violations were happening on the retailer level (i.e. smaller grocery stores); we have encouraged the wholesalers to inform their retailers to adhere and not take advantage of the situation.
Additionally, as of March 11th, the maximum prices of goods related to basic necessities and those related to COVID-19, have been formally and legally established. This means that the control will start immediately and businesses not adhering to these prices will be penalized according to the Law (i.e. 4 years in Jail or fine of up to Naf 10,000). The public is advised to report any violations by calling 542-4511.
Lastly, the wholesalers and the government representatives concluded that there was no need to panic, nor to stockpile grocery items. While there is a global challenge, there is no need to panic and purchase more than necessary.
The General public is encouraged to purchase and save as they would normally do, by consuming conservatively and to be reasonable. Otherwise the business will take measures in their own hands and begin to ration items to ensure that each household can have their basic needs met without any problems.