Rice Importers, GoL Lockup In Negotiation -Request for Price Adjustment Under Discussion

MONROVIA: That the country’s staple, rice, is a political commodity and that each time an attempt is made to upset its price and its stability, the ruling establishment often gets edgy in trepidations, fearing public backlash, is still telling. The four-month-old Boakai administration has just bumped into its own phase of the rice imbroglio as merchants in the sector have ignited discussions, seeking increment in the price of the commodity. For the Unity Party, which rode itself to power on the mantra of “rescue”, the premature proposal is intolerable and the government has therefore been in a very tense discussion to fashion an amicable settlement. But as The Analyst reports, it is becoming clearer by the day that an increment is imminent, even if it is slight.

The Rice Importers Association of Liberia is reportedly putting pressure on the Government of Liberia to allow for an increase in the price of the nation’s staple, rice, also fondly called a “political commodity.”

Though sources say the Boakai government is taken by surprise as a result of the demands from the rice moguls, there are indications that the negotiations ongoing between the government, represented by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI), and the importers of the staple is heading towards a possible “slight increase”.

Those familiar with the negotiations told The Analyst that the current price of $17.50 is expected to be pushed to $18.50 or $20.

The proposed adjustment by the Rice Importers Association of Liberia, according to the sources, is underpinned by reasons beyond their control, alluding to exogenous economic factors.

The Government of Liberia is also making frantic efforts at resolving issue in the interest of the country and its people, specifically working hard to ward off significant increase that might inhibit the already poor purchasing power of ordinary citizens.

It can be recalled the importers had earlier made such a request to George Weah administration back in October 2023, specifically seeking increase of the price of rice for a 25kg bag sold at the current price of $17.50 to $18.50 but the request was not honored by the government during that politically sensitive time.

But as the Unity Party took over, the importers did not waste anytime but to confront the new administration. Last February, barely a month in power, the Boakai administration was confronted by the importers’ renewed request, citing reasons among which were the imposition of an additional 20% charge and the lengthened shipping routes, including through the Suez Canal, due to the hostilities in the Middle East.

The rice merchants are also contending that there are increased transportation costs from APM Terminal, Med-Tech, the National Port Authority (NPA), the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), among others.

The Analyst has gathered that the Minister of Commerce, Amin Modad, who has been frantically appealing to the importers to disregard request for an increase of the price of such a political commodity at these sensitive times, is having some challenge pinning them down to defer or cancel their proposal.

At the end of a meeting recently held between the parties, an agreement was reached on two main resolutions, including one which states that the price be reduced to $16.50 and that the importers would invest in local rice production as a way of finding a workable solution around the issue of importation of rice into the country.

The agreement, it was reported, was contingent on the importers selling a 25kg bag of rice at $16.50 until May, 2024, while observing if the Indian government would reduce tariffs.

One source told The Analyst that while there was strong anticipation for the agreement to hold, on May 14, 2024, the importers once again wrote to the government requesting an increase in the price to $21, citing same reasons cited previously, as well as reports that an additional 4% increase was imposed by the Indian government.

The new situation, according to our source, prompted another meeting at which time the decision to reset the price to $18.50 was reached, though the importers agreed to provide different varieties of the commodity at the lower price.

Minister Modad is reportedly fighting tooth and nail to ensure that that does not happen, at least not now.

With that, according to our sources, the importers are making assurances that if there request for increment is met, there would be no shortages of the commodity on the market, making an initial commitment of $200,000.00 for local rice production, and expressing intentions to increase the investment in the future.

There has not been any independent confirmation about the final outcome of the discussions between the Government and the rice merchants in the face of reports of an imminent increase in the price of rice.

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