ECONOMY

Price talk ahead of war

The government yesterday again pointed an accusatory finger at importers and traders for the recent steep rises in the prices of fresh produce and a growth in profiteering. «The commercial policy of traders and importers of fresh produce is largely responsible for the maintenance of prices at high levels recently,» Deputy Development Minister Christos Theodorou said during a tour of a street market in the northern Athens suburb of Maroussi. He noted large spreads between import and consumer prices in certain goods and expressed the view that there were artificial shortages. Nevertheless, he admitted that the rising price of oil and bad weather conditions were also to blame, but did not say how the government planned to face the situation. He added that the ministry will now also turn its attention to staving off upward pressures in industrial goods prices as a result of a war in Iraq. Fresh produce prices have increased by more than 100 percent since the beginning of the year. Separately, the National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE) called for the setting up of a broad-based national body that will consider ideas and adopt measures to deal with the crisis that will result from a war in Iraq. «The Greek economy and businesses – particularly small ones – are unprepared to face such situations,» said ESEE. The Panhellenic Federation of Construction and Building Enterprises pledged to keep house prices stable for three months, until the repercussions of an Iraq war are over. This is in spite of the fact that reinforced concrete prices rose 17 percent last year and another 8 percent so far this year. Building activity dropped by 5 percent in 2002. The Association of Tourism Enterprises of Greece (SETE) said a reduction in high airport taxes, at least for the duration of the crisis, would make the country a more attractive destination and more than offset any losses in public revenue.