On Tuesday (today), Member of European Parliament (MEP) Alex Agius Saliba shared a video on Facebook on the doorstep of a local community grocery store, highlighting a disparity in prices “of the same product, distributed a mere short period of four months from each other”.

MEP Agius Saliba showcased two Uncle Ben’s Original Sweet and Sour jars, on one hand a jar from the old stock costing €2.80 and on the other hand the same jar from the most recent stock costing €4.05, noting a difference of €1.25. “The price increased in a time span of not more than four months.”

He had previously asked for the European Commission to investigate Maltese importers and distributors stating that due to Malta’s limitations, its size and geographic location, the country is facing “de-facto monopolies” by its own importers and distributors.

This statement led to plenty of criticism, including from the Malta Chamber of SMEs, which called him “hypocritical”, stating that he is attacking importers for “cheap political advancements”.

Now, MEP Agius Saliba said that he is not fighting against local grocery stores. “Its not their fault, they are even selling items based on the pricing of old stock.”

“I don’t understand how the Chamber of SMEs, when seeing these stark differences in prices, does not take action,” MEP Agius Saliba rebutted.

He also said that the Chamber of SMEs did not welcome the General Workers Union’s (GWU) proposal, entailing shops to join forces through the Chamber of SMEs “that is supposedly representing them” and buy the products themselves. This means that items are cheaper for the shops and the consumers.

From this year’s pre-budget proposals, GWU proposed the launch of a scheme “whereby importers of food stuffs are given the opportunity to apply for a soft loan.” The loan is to be financed by the Malta Development Bank and the interest rate subsidised through the National Development and Social Fund.

“This will give importers the opportunity to buy in bulk and thus prices are capped and stabilised,” the GWU said. The union also proposed a price comparison website and applications to help consumers save money.

On the other hand, Norman Aquilina, Farsons Group CEO wrote on the Times of Malta that MEP Agius Saliba’s assertion that Maltese food importers need to be investigated lies on the assumed premise that the islands’ size and geographical limitations have led to the formation of de-facto monopolies, “when distinctively, these same limitations are more de facto, the cause of added logistical costs.”

In addition, Mr Aquilina remarked that Maltese MEPs “would be more of service to all, importers and consumers alike” if they focus of the need to get the Commission to give tangible recognition to issues of remoteness of island member states and not just regions or island regions forming part of the EU.

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