Booming black market in fruit and vegetables

Street markets have come under a lot of criticism recently, both from the authorities and consumers, on account of rising prices. Achilleas Kapsiotis, president of the Street Market Organization, which comes under the Development Ministry, insists that local markets are strictly policed, yet a large proportion of sales appear to be made under the table. Statistics from the Athens Central Market Organization SA show that only 15 percent of fruits and vegetables consumed in Attica are sold «according to official procedures.» What happens to the remaining 85 percent? A large percentage is sold to supermarkets, which usually make direct agreements with growers. However, some 20-30 percent is said to be sold on the sly, without being taxed, and this is what shapes prices to the disadvantage, not so much of the consumer, but of the other players. Established in 1932 Local markets were established in 1932 by a royal decree which allowed growers from around Attica to sell their produce outdoors at different places in Athens by agreement with local municipalities. The markets have gone through different stages before taking their present form. Some 2,800 individuals have permits to sell their produce at local markets at a specific markup stipulated by market regulations. They are taxed a lump sum every year regardless of their turnover. There are also 15,000 growers from all over Greece who have permits to sell certain products in certain quantities according to the amount of land they own. They are allowed to sell at any price, and are not really taxed because quite a high turnover is tax free. This is where the problems begin. Growers sell year-round at street markets, and one wonders how many products they produce and where they find time to grow them. They are often accused of buying produce from other growers and selling it as their own. While there are strict controls on amounts sold, there is always a way of getting around them as long as sales are made without receipts. Naturally, a producer who is basically a merchant can offer better prices than the growers from whom they buy, which hurts those who work solely as merchants. Kapsiotis says street markets are under control and cites as proof the 1,800 infringements noted in a six-month period. However, those in the know say that there are ways around even the recently introduced consignment voucher that details amounts sold. Inflated invoices Those who have a professional seller’s permit may sell at a specific markup, which does not, however, cover their expenses. They then ask their suppliers to write inflated prices on the invoice so they can then sell at a higher price, adding the legitimate markup. Both sellers and producers agree that they would prefer to see the price ceiling abolished if it would guarantee competition. Costas Hondroulis, market stall-holder and president of the Panhellenic Federation of Fruit and Vegetable Vendors, claims that fruits and vegetables are in a category of their own. «I can’t keep them if the price is low and sell them 10 days later, like a manufactured product. A tomato loses half its price by the second day and on the third I have to throw it out.»