Magharebia (Washington DC)

Morocco: Ramadan Price Hikes Worry Consumers

Casablanca — Despite government reassurances, Moroccans fear that the cost of foodstuffs will soar during the holy month.

"Markets will have sufficient supplies, and sometimes even excessive supplies," the government pledged ahead of the start of Ramadan on Sunday (June 29th). It also issued instructions to deal with violations and fraud, and confirmed that the prices of basic commodities would "either be the same or drop".

But citizens remain sceptical, noting that costs have already climbed.

Mohamed Rachdan, an employee, expressed surprise that the government denied any price hikes for foods and vegetables, only for citizens to see an increase the following day.

"The government's explanation for rising prices is not logical," activist Najib Rabhi said. "We don't know about what citizens' interests the government is talking," he said.

"This year has been good in term of agricultural crops, and there is abundance of vegetables, fruits and cereal grains. Therefore, prices were supposed to be stable," he told Magharebia.

He cited Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane's comments about the spike in yoghurt prices last month. The premier said that the yoghurt company was part of the free market and thus outside government control.

"This is how he will again justify every expected price hike," Rabhi said.

Some attribute price hikes to speculation by wholesale brokers.

"This requires the government to tighten control because those speculators are known and they impose this restriction on citizens publicly," said Farid, the owner of a grocery store.

Produce trader Said Benani holds citizens partly responsible for the problem. They rush to stock up on some commodities even when there is no shortage at the market, he said.

"This high demand makes sellers violate the price law," Benani noted.

Rabia, a housewife, wonders whether the Moroccan government will tighten control on fish prices or give "freedom" to those who take advantage of high demand during Ramadan by imposing whatever prices they want.

Sellers in a famous fish market in Casablanca also expect prices to climb in city markets due to their increase at the port.

Even though the government asserted that markets would not see reduced availability of essential items, consumers will still encounter some higher prices during the holy month, the National Association for Consumer Protection confirmed.

The association warned against tightening the noose on simple citizens, in which case all the government's warnings - and its measures to deter fraud and price manipulation - would be in vain.

"We expect more price hikes in Ramadan, in spite of sufficient supplies of commodities in markets," Moroccan Federation of Consumer Rights (FMDC) head Bouazza Kherati agreed.

"The government must bear its responsibility towards this issue, which worries a lot of families," the consumer advocate added.

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