Venezuela expands price controls to new products

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's government is trying to contain inflation by expanding price controls to a list of products including diapers, laundry detergent and bottled water.

The new price controls that take effect starting this week affect 19 types of products ranging from toilet paper and shampoo to deodorant and pasteurized fruit juice.

Karlin Granadillo, the government official overseeing the rules, told state television on Monday that businesses caught violating the price controls may be temporarily closed or fined.

President Hugo Chavez's government has for years set prices for various food items. The expanded price controls come under the government's Law of Fair Costs and Prices, which was approved last year.

Chavez said on Saturday that monthly inflation declined from 1.1 percent in February to 0.9 percent in March, state radio reported. Annual inflation stood at 25.6 percent in February.

Inflation in March reached its lowest level since 2008, when officials began calculating inflation prices based on nationwide data rather than data from the capital of Caracas.

The oil-exporting country has had the highest official inflation rate in Latin America for the past six years, despite price controls that have been in place since 2003. The economy is heavily reliant on imports for many types of consumer goods, contributing to higher prices.

The new regulations that formally took effect on Sunday also include products such as bleach, toothpaste, floor wax and razors.

The regulations require businesses to reduce prices of the 19 types of products between 4 percent and 25 percent, with the percentage varying depending on the product.

Some business leaders in Venezuela have warned that the expanded price controls are likely to harm investment and lead to shortages.

Vice President Elias Jaua said the new rules are being phased in this month and that some businesses had asked for additional time to adopt the new government-set prices.

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