Egypt puts price controls on fruit and vegetables

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Egypt’s government published a list of fruit and vegetable prices on Thursday in a bid to keep consumer expenses down, warning it would eventually crack down on merchants if they did not adhere.

The transitional government put in place after the military ousted Islamist president Mohammad Mursi in July has proposed a series of populist measures as it writes a new constitution ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections planned forthe first half of 2014.

Consumers have complained of a rapid increase in produce prices over the last few months. The government listed common fruit and vegetables, including tomatoes that it said should sell at 1.50 to 2.00 Egyptian pounds per kg ($0.22-$0.29) and potatoes, at 4.75 to 5.50 pounds. Those were both roughly a pound less than current prices in some markets.

The government imposed mandatory prices on produce in the 1960s and 1970s, but fruit and vegetables often disappeared from the marketplace into the black market. Egypt removed the controls in the 1980s.

The ministry of supply said the prices were guidelines and would be issued once a week. “If merchants don’t adhere, the government will resort to imposing mandatory pricing,” the cabinet said in a statement.

The ministry said it would also work to lower prices by increasing the amounts of produce available in state-run cooperatives and ministry of agriculture outlets and by sending lorries to deliver fruit and vegetables to poorer neighborhoods.

Since it came to power, the army-backed government has announced a minimum wage for state employees and a 22.3 billion Egyptian pound stimulus package directed in part to investments in labor-intensive infrastructure projects.

Supply Minister Mohamed Abu Shadi said he had set up two hot lines for citizens wanting to complain of price violations.

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