By Nicole Kolster
Caracas, Jul 21 (EFE).- Coconut water from the US, milk from France, peaches from Spain and Mexican beer. A supermarket in Caracas is full of imported products, which each day are more in evidence on store shelves in Venezuela, a country in crisis that exempts foreign products from taxes as per a policy that unions are denouncing as “unfair competition.”
The president of the Venezuelan Businesses and Services Council (Consecomercio), Tiziana Polesel, told EFE that unfair competition exists between imports and domestic production because “while that tax is not collected for a product so it can be sold in Venezuela … the national manufacturer of the same product does have to pay all the taxes to import the supplies needed to make it.”
Polesel said that “before, they had to pay taxes to nationalize those products and nowadays they’re exempt,” a situation that “benefits a sector that has been able to import” with “competitive prices.”
In fact, in 2018, President Nicolas Maduro signed a decree in which he freed from taxes the importation of intermediary and end products to “accelerate the country’s growth.” Although that exemption was supposed to be in place for one year, the decree has been extended ever since.
Venezuela’s manufacturing industry union since that time has requested that all products made in Venezuela enjoy the same benefits provided to imported products.
Shopping carts in a supermarket in western Caracas are loaded with foreign articles that many customers pay for in dollars, the reference currency that is frequently used in transactions due to the inadequacy of the bolivar.
But “this supermarket is not for everyone,” a 66-year-old wage-earner who emerged from the store with a few products, spending the equivalent of $8, told EFE – this in a country where hyperinflation has reduced the buying power of workers who earn a minimum wage of less than $3.
“There is variety, but what there’s none of is consumption. People have no way to get those products,” Polesel said.
The shopper, who preferred not to give his name, said that “the (high) prices are a generalized thing.”
“I get my two-week paycheck, I go out to buy something and my account is empty until the next (paycheck),” he said.
Another option is the popular markets like Quinta Crespo, which is also in western Caracas.
This occurred one Saturday morning there: “At your service! At your service!” salespeople trying to attract customers call out.
At this market there are lots of domestically made products, like at 27-year-old Brian Caceres’ stall where he sells corn, coffee, milk and salsas and feels that sales have fallen off, in part, because he cannot compete with the imported items.
“People don’t eat quality, they eat price,” he said, adding that the final cost of national production “includes all of the problems: such as corruption by the authorities, paying so-and-so, paying for this … and on the other hand an imported product always has to have the same standard, the same price.”
“Outside (Venezuela), it doesn’t change. Outside, prices don’t vary,” said the man, who has worked at this job for the past six months after working for five years at another market.
In a meeting last weekend with Maduro, opposition lawmaker Jose Gregorio Correa complained that transporting nationally produced products is made more expensive by bribes to authorities along the highways.
“One hundred products (come from the regions to Caracas) and 45 arrive, since along the road producers must keep unloading merchandise at the police checkpoints, the lawmaker said.
Polesel said that there are industries that are “paralyzed due to lack of fuel,” adding that power outages are “an impediment to working productively,” and going on to mention the “voracious increase in municipal taxes.”
“There are regions that are in a state of truly worrying devastation … Sometimes, we make the mistake of thinking that the country is just Caracas,” he said.