DOC statistician suggests conducing a feasibility study on “price controls”
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Chief Statistician, Meleisea Vai Filiga, who is also Commerce Department assistant deputy for the Statistics & Analysis Division, suggested a feasibility study to determine benefits and constraints of having “price controls” for consumer goods — especially food items — sold in the territory.
Meleisea’s recommendation was made during his final remarks before the conclusion of a Senate committee hearing, which was called following public complaints to senators over the high cost of living, especially food items, in the territory.
During the hearing “price controls” were brought up, which ASG witnesses including Meleisea informed senators that they are not aware of any law giving any government agency the authority to “control” the price of goods sold in the territory.
Responding to Samoa News inquiries on his recommendation, Meleisea explained that the “feasibility study” is to “determine constraints and benefits of having a price control/ cap/ ceiling/ floor on consumer goods both locally produced and imported items.”
Questions for such a study include:
• How will this impact consumer preferences, businesses operations, government revenues and other dependent factors?
• What are the benefits of setting government controls in a free market system where businesses operate within the limits of supply and demand?
• What happens when there is a monopoly in controlling the flow, availability, denial and limitations of goods and services to society?
“We need to study other systems, especially neighboring countries with similar price control systems and identify counter systems including black markets in the presence of a government controlled price system,” Meleisea pointed out.
He also said that the “local government needs to put in place data systems in order to properly document and collect fees” for freight on-board (FOB) costs versus cost/ insurance/ freight (CIF) costs at entry points, “and a unit cost analysis of imported commodities, as well as local value added costs that contribute to the retail price of commodities.”
Meleisea distributed to senators during the hearing the Fourth Quarter 2022 Consumer Price Index (CPI) report issued earlier this week by DOC, and it shows that for the first three quarters of calendar year 2022, “inflation in American Samoa has been in the double digits, peaking in the 3rd [quarter] at 13.5%.” (See Wednesday edition on Senate hearing on the price of food discussed during the hearing.)
According to the report, the group with the highest annual percentage change, as usual, is Food, which increased by 13% in the 4th quarter compared to the previous year’s quarter.
Following Food is the Housing group which grew by 12%. The third highest expenditure group is Education and Communication — up by 9.9%, according to the report, which points out that the three major groups that hold the most weight are — number one Food, followed by Housing and Transportation.
“Movements of these three groups will greatly influence inflation,” the report said. “Because transportation did not significantly increase [in the 4th quarter], it did not reflect in the inflation rate.”
Additionally, the Education group had a higher increase than the Transportation group.
DOC noted that the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the drop in gasoline prices contributed to the overall decrease in inflation. The U.S. inflation rate for all items in the 4th quarter is reported at 6.5, a fall from 8.5 last quarter.
It also points out that most items observed in the local Consumer Price Index are imported. Therefore, prices in the territory are expected to reflect the cost of freight, while the cost of goods fluctuates depending on when and where it was purchased from suppliers.
The 4th Quarter Newsletter provides summary information on gasoline and diesel fuel. It says that monthly unleaded gas price has dropped by an average of 4.9% and diesel dropped as well by 4.2%.
Average price for gasoline at the pump in November was at $4.87 per gallon but decreased to $4.63 in December. For diesel, average in November was $5.75 per gallon and declined to $5.50 in December.
The Newsletter reports that the 3rd quarter recorded an increase in the Transportation group by 2.5% but in the 4th quarter, it recorded a decrease of 2.7%, which is evidenced in the drop of unleaded gas and diesel prices.