Gov’t plans overhaul of market rules to boost competition

The government said yesterday it was preparing to overhaul market regulations with a view to enhancing competition and battling profiteering. «We are working on arrangements so that market rules are the same for all. A draft bill to be tabled and discussed in late August to early September will introduce new provisions into a number of markets, with a view to achieving an overall regulation of commerce,» Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos told reporters in Thessaloniki. «Markets are regulated neither by prohibitions nor according to our desires. They function according to the law of supply and demand. What we are trying to do through these control measures is to prevent anyone from exploiting a dominant position and functioning over and above market and competition rules… The basic reason for instances of profiteering is we have yet to create authentic, fully deregulated markets,» he said. Tsochadzopoulos said this did not mean allowing markets to operate unfettered because it would lead to «big fish eating small fish.» According to the draft bill, invoices will now be issued by farmers rather than wholesalers and «farm produce will be standardized so that it will be possible to exercise control over the field, where prices are primarily formed.» In an interview with the daily Ta Nea yesterday, Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said measures to boost competition had to be supplemented by a number of administrative measures, such as the compulsory display of suggested prices on widely consumed goods, such as bottled water, and of price lists in service establishments, from restaurants to doctors’ surgeries; also, the responsible departments would have to be notified of any price hikes. Tsochadzopoulos said the deal which ended the strike by fuel tanker drivers last week prevented price hikes for the consumer, as the fuel-marketing companies had agreed to shoulder the necessary rise in transport costs. Tsochadzopoulos said the properly deregulated fuels market has ensured that Greece has «the lowest fuel prices in Europe.» He acknowledged, however, that the dominant market position of certain distributors in certain island regions as a result of difficulties in continuous supply had given rise to instances of collusion and profiteering. «They are mostly specific enterprises on specific islands. They have been officially notified that this cannot continue for long, or they will be referred to the Competition Commission,» he said. Tourism Inspectors are scouring tourist areas in particular to stem instances of profiteering, particularly in catering establishments, Tsochadzopoulos said, adding that the competitiveness of Greek tourism «is our most potent weapon and has to be safeguarded by all means.» By contrast, accommodation prices were «very satisfactory» due to intense competition throughout Europe. He said recent data showed that arrivals in July were «significantly higher» than a year earlier and that the government was certain that the trend would continue, possibly offsetting the shortfall earlier this year due to the Iraq war and the SARS epidemic. Deputy Development Minister Dimitris Georgakopoulos, who briefed reporters in Athens, gave a slightly less optimistic picture, saying that according to first-half figures and estimates from the Greek National Tourism Organization’s (GNTO) offices abroad, there will be a fall of between 2 and 3.5 percent for 2003. He said charter flight arrivals in July had recovered from a slump in May and June and were only 0.05 percent lower than July 2002. The picture of projected arrivals from individual countries was mixed; GNTO, for instance, forecast a 5 percent fall in arrivals from Germany and 23 percent from the USA, but a rise of 10 percent from Italy and 5 percent from France. «We could even end up with no decline in tourist arrivals,» he added.