Manufacturers have been ordered to delay any increases in product prices in the first quarter of this year as the Commerce Ministry plans to control inflation and cushion the burden on consumers amid soaring oil prices.
The ministry is also considering adding more products to its inflation calculation system, which is now based on the prices of 373 items.
Commerce permanent secretary Siripol Yodmuang-charoen said the ministry will try its best to alleviate the burden on consumers during a time of rising oil prices and cost push manufacturing.
"We will not allow any manufacturers to increase retail prices at this moment. Moreover, we will increase the number of products on our price-control list," he said.
So far, 200 product categories are under the ministry's control. Of these, 35 products are on the priority watch list, which must receive the ministry's approval for price increases. Manufacturers of these products are also required to report their retail prices and stocks twice a week.
Some 517 items in 14 product categories, including instant noodles, canned fish, medicine, vegetable oils, detergents, fertilisers, batteries, and rubber tyres, have sought price increases from the ministry.
In addition, the ministry has threatened to fix the maximum selling price for cooking palm oil soon, as part of the ministry's price-control measure.
At present, only the retail price of sugar has been fixed. Palm oil is grouped in the priority watch list category and the ministry has suggested a retail price ceiling. However, some manufacturers are still selling cooking palm oil above the ceiling price as they maintain they have faced losses from selling their product at the ceiling price.
The ministry reaffirmed its inflation projection this year at the previous 3-3.5 per cent, despite oil prices skyrocketing to above US$100 (Bt3,300) per barrel early this year. The ministry predicted that during the whole of this year, oil price would average $85 per barrel.
Siripol said the ministry will revise its inflation projection again after monitoring oil price moves in the first quarter this year.
Last year, the country's inflation rate reached 2.3 per cent year on year.
To closely control cooking palm-oil prices and prevent stockpile shortages, the ministry has sent five-person special task force teams to check cooking palm-oil prices and stocks of retailers and wholesalers nation-wide.
The Internal Trade Department reported that the country's stock of crude palm oil has dropped to 82,000 tonnes at present. For supply security, the country must maintain a monthly stock of 150,000 tonnes, with 68,000 tonnes devoted to consumption.
To solve the stockpile shortage, the government will propose palm oil imports for approval at tomorrow's meeting of the Edible Oil Policy Board, which is chaired by Commerce Minister Krirk-krai Jirapaet.
The ministry also expects palm-oil prices and shortages to be eased after the beginning of the next harvest season in March.
Internal Trade Department director-general Yanyong Phuangrach said that as soon as the board issues its approval, about 20,000 tonnes of semi-finished palm oil will be imported. The cooking oil will mainly be imported from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Under the Asean Free Trade Area, semi-finished palm oil is subject to a 5-per-cent import tariff. Semi-finished palm oil from Malaysia is quoted at Bt33 a kilo now.