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N4TRN BILL: HOW PETROL SUBSIDY GREW BY 349.42% IN 3 YEARS

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…Why the cost of the subsidy is rising, by experts

… Nigeria must refine her crude locally to stop the subsidy

…We‘re against subsidy—MOMAN

…Deregulation, PIA on hold

…How subsidy cost rose sharply, by MOMAN scribe

…FG’s deficit widens

Petrol subsidy payments grew by 349.42 per cent from N350 billion in 2019 to N1.573 trillion in 2021, propelled by the rising price of crude oil in the international market and the falling value of the Naira.

The cost of subsidizing the product in 2020 was N450 billion. In 2022 alone, the total cost of subsidy in January and February was N396.72 billion, the latest data from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, has shown.

Federal legislators approved the sum of N4 trillion to be spent on petrol subsidies in 2022.

The Federal Government had previously disclosed through the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, that it spent N10.413 trillion on fuel subsidies between 2006 and 2019.

With Nigeria importing all its petrol from refineries abroad, the low value of the Naira has had a significant impact on the pricing of the product in-country.

None of the three government-owned refineries is currently operational, despite huge investments in their Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) by the government.

The current administration has failed on its promise to make the refineries operational within a short period of assuming office.

Deregulation on hold

A plan by the government to deregulate the sector, following enactment of the Petroleum Industry Act (2021) that prescribes a free market for the downstream sector of the petroleum industry has been abandoned, with the government seeking and obtaining budgetary approval to spend N4 trillion on petrol subsidy.

The annual expenditures on petrol subsidy under the current administration contrast very sharply when compared with fuel subsidy under the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan, which was accused of fuel subsidy fraud.

According to data published by the defunct Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, the Federal Government paid a total of N2,105.92 trillion in 2011, an increase of N1,437.84 trillion from the 2010 payment.

It also noted that in 2012, N1.35 trillion was paid as a subsidy, the highest within the period under review.

 “A total of N 1, 316 trillion in 2013, N1,217 trillion in 2014 and N653.51 billion in 2015 was paid as subsidy claims,” it added.

It noted that the NNPC since 2016, had been the sole importer of the product to the country.

Determined to curb fiscal leakages associated with the fuel subsidy regime, President Jonathan had announced deregulation of the downstream sub-sector, with a view to eliminating fuel subsidy.

However, incumbent President Mohammadu Buhari, and other opposition party leaders, under the Save Nigeria Group, organised nationwide protests to stop  Jonathan from going ahead with the decision.

Other notable Nigerians that led the mass protest included Pastor Tunde Bakare, who was Buhari’s running mate in Congress of Progressive Change (CPC) and  Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State.

The protests forced Jonathan to rescind the policy. When  Buhari took over power in 2015, his government initially refused to pay fuel importers for products imported into the country.

It took a fuel crisis, characterised by long queues, to force the government to pay the debts, as the marketers insisted that they would not import more products unless their earlier bills were settled.

The Buhari administration was to later come to terms with the realities of the rot in the industry.

President Buhari made himself Minister of Petroleum and by so doing, has directly managed the petroleum industry. However, he has failed to make any policy changes.

‘Global price of crude determines petrol price here’

Speaking in a telephone interview from Ibadan, Director, Centre for Petroleum, Energy Economics and Law, University of Ibadan, Professor Adeola Adenikinju said the price of petrol is determined by the international price of crude and cost of foreign exchange.

Adenikinju noted that the government’s decision to continue subsidy payment was more political than economic, given the revenue challenges facing governments at all levels.

He pointed out that by retaining the petrol subsidy, the government would find it difficult to meet other commitments.

According to him, “It is a political decision, not an economic one. Economically, we know that subsidies have been very costly to the country and this is going to have serious implications on government revenue, particularly the state governments.

“The states are going to feel it more because they depend heavily on revenue from the Federation Account and secondly, they do not have the leverage to borrow like the Federal Government.

“If it goes ahead, the states are going to be hard-hit financially and it is going to be extremely difficult for them to meet all their commitments in terms of payment of salaries and keeping their obligations to pensioners”.

He noted that he would not be surprised later in the year if the states and local governments are unable to meet their commitments.

The university teacher also pointed out that the decision went beyond just revenue but would also have implications for the oil industry.

“It is also at the heart of the deregulation of the downstream sector. It will have implications for the implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021 significantly because the decision on pricing is about market forces being at play to allow investment decisions to be made.

“This is going to hinder investment, so we can say that until the issue is resolved there is not going to be much private investment flow to the downstream sector.”

He blamed the middle class and the elite, who he said are the main beneficiaries of the petrol subsidy regime for mounting pressure on the government to retain the policy.

“Once you touch the middle class, the elite, they react. The argument is about the protection of the privileges of the middle class to which the labour unions belong. This is because kerosene was deregulated, nothing happened, diesel was deregulated, nothing also happened but once you touch something that affects the middle class, it becomes difficult to implement because they have access to the media”, he added.

‘Loss of confidence in govt by citizens’

He also blamed the resistance to the policy on citizens’ loss of confidence in the government, pointing out that over time Nigerians no longer trusted the government.

Adenikinju urged the government to intensify negotiations with organized labour, noting that ending the costly subsidy regime is critical to the financial state of governments at all levels.

On his part, Independent Oil and Gas Governance Consultant, Mr Henry Adigun, in an earlier interview with Vanguard, argued that it is impossible for Nigerians to expect to continue to pay the same rate for petrol while it was rising in other countries due to crude oil price in the international market.

Adigun noted that while the reluctance of the government to have petrol subsidies removed is understandable, Nigerians must know that the payment would have to come from somewhere.

According to him, “the challenge about PIA is not about the quality of the law but implementation, and so far the government has been very inconsistent in the implementation and they have not really allowed it to work.

“I understand that you cannot have subsidy removal now because the hardship on Nigerians would be immense. We have a situation whereby inflation is about 17 per cent and food prices have soared. Any attempt to increase petrol price will mean that a litre of petrol will probably sell at N270-N285.

“That would have a knock-on effect on inflation, food basket and on many other things, and at the point, we are in now, we cannot afford that as it might lead to social unrest. Our people are very angry because there is poverty in the land”.

How subsidy rose sharply, by MOMAN scribe

Speaking to Vanguard in a telephone interview, the Executive Secretary of Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Mr Clement Isong, explained that three factors were responsible for the astronomical rise in petrol subsidy.

Isong listed a rise in the international price of crude oil, foreign exchange rate and high rate of petrol smuggling across Nigeria’s borders.

He said: “The first is the international cost of crude oil and the derivative products like Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) has gone up significantly as a result of the Russian war in Ukraine. So the price of crude itself, and the price of petrol, diesel and all products that come from petroleum have gone higher than they normally would be because of the war and the sanctions imposed on Russia, which is a major exporter of crude.

“Secondly, the rate of foreign exchange is exceedingly high right now. That is to say, the exchange rate for the Naira is at its highest level. I’m not talking of the black market which is even higher, I’m talking about the Central Bank of Nigeria rate which is N411-N414 to the dollar. It is higher than it has ever been historically.

“Finally, and this is the most important reason because you have capped the price, at one third or one quarter, of the price that it is across the borders, the propensity for the product to move across the borders is at the highest.

“What I mean by that is that so many people, ordinary Nigerians, ordinary human beings on both sides of the border engage in moving the product from the Nigerian side to the other side. Whether we are talking about Cameroun, Chad, Republic of Benin, Niger or Equatorial Guinea, this product goes to the whole Central and West African regions.

“This is because it is a simple law of economics that the product will follow where the price is highest. The product will go there by itself. Now because there is so much product going out, and the government doesn’t want queues in Nigeria, the government has increased the amount of product that it is importing for the Nigerian people”, he added.

He explained that the combination of these factors has brought Nigeria to where it is at the moment.

Isong explained that ordinarily, the volume being imported into the country ought to be lower, but the activities of smugglers have shot up the volume.

“For all, you know, maybe our consumption in Nigeria is normally 30, 35, maybe 40 million litres per day, in the last couple of years it has been between 60 and 65 million litres per day which were already too high because of the price cap but now that the differential between the price in Nigeria and in neighbouring countries is even higher, the volume that will go outside Nigeria will be higher.

“So, this year, we are averaging between 70 and 80 million litres per day. That volume is not consumed in Nigeria. The solution is simply for Nigerians to put up their hands and say to the government, we no longer want subsidies. The subsidy is killing our country, subsidy is killing us”.

The MOMAN scribe noted that while he understood the argument behind the government’s decision, removing subsidies is in the best interest of the country.

“The position of the industry as a whole is this: the industry is against the subsidy. We have always been against it, we will always be against it. We are against the concept of price regulations which is what brings the subsidy”, he stated.

Subsidy widens FG’s deficit

The Federal Government said that the fuel subsidy was widening its deficit gap so much that it was considering tapping the 2 billion Euros it raised in the Eurobond sale last year to support its fiscal position.

Reuters reported the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, as disclosing this at the Arab-African Conference in Cairo,  Egypt.

She said that the administration will target more local borrowing this year to help fund the budget deficit which has been exacerbated by rising oil prices, due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.      

Mrs Ahmed was quoted as saying, “Rising oil prices have put us in a very precarious position … because we import refined products … and it means that our subsidy cost is really increasing.” The Federal Government had, in September last year, raised 4 billion Euros from the international capital market.

Although the President Muhammadu Buhari administration had announced plans to end fuel subsidies in June, it later reversed itself following a public outcry against the decision.

It then extended the subsidy by 18 months to avert any protests in the run-up to presidential elections next year, as part of its external borrowing plan.

Rather than being an advantage to Nigeria as a major oil producer, the high crude oil prices have become a burden for the country as the fuel consumed locally is imported.

The Buhari administration has failed in its promise to make the four refineries owned by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited become operational, despite huge investments in their Turnaround Maintenance.

The NNPC has given the excuse of high under-recovery as the reason why it has not been remitting oil revenue to the Federation Account, from where the three tiers of government share federation revenue on a monthly basis.

Even the Monetary Policy Committee, MPC, recently aired its concern over NNPC’s non-remittance of oil proceeds at a time when oil prices have risen very high to the advantage of other oil-producing nations of the world.

The exact volume of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popularly known as petrol consumed in the country remains a subject of contention.  The state governors had rejected the NNPC’s claim of 75 million litres of daily consumption.

The Minister of Finance had announced that a committee was working to reconcile the financial position of the NNPC, in respect of the under-recoveries, and the remittance into the federation coffers. The reconciliations have yet to be made public.

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TELCOS PROTEST N90BN NEW PHONE TAX, TO BILL SUBSCRIBERS

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Sim Cards

The Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria has described the recent move by the Federal Government to add a one kobo per second tax on phone calls as a bad move.

According to it, this is insensitive considering the operating environment of telecom companies.

The umbrella body for telecom companies said, “For us as at ALTON, it is bad fate on the part of the government, and it is badly intended. This is because when we came out that the government should look at our cost of operations and give us room to review tariffs, everybody treated us like an outcast.

“The same government is now coming in a matter of days to say they are introducing new taxes. So, when they were saying to us that we cannot increase tariff because it is insensitive to the plight of the people and now, they brought another tax through the back door, we think it is bad fate and badly intended. So, if we cannot review based on the impact it will have on subscribers, why are they bringing in another tax, still on subscribers. Government cannot act in one way and say another thing.”

The Federal Government is proposing a one kobo per seconds tax on phone calls in the nation to fund free healthcare for the Vulnerable Group in Nigeria.

This was disclosed in the National Health Insurance Authority Bill 2021 signed by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), recently. This translates to a nine per cent tax on GSM calls if implemented.

ALTON added that the new tax would reduce the value subscribers get from telecom services, as they would need to pay more to enjoy what they used to.

The association stated, “It will affect the subscribers because they get less value for what they pay for. It means now that when you buy an N100 recharge card, the percentage will be deducted from it and paid to the government. So, it is actually short-changing the people.  What will happen is that operators will be mandated to collect this tax on their behalf and remit it to the government.”

It said the government should consider taxing another industry rather than telecoms. According to it, subscribers will have to pay extra for this new cost.

It added, “This can be introduced to another sector of the economy.

“The reason for it is understandable, but we think it can be sourced from another source, not telecoms subscribers, whom government itself has said they are suffering because of high of living lately. We will not complain as operators because we will definitely remit, it is the subscribers that will bear the brunt.

PUNCH

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NITDA, GOOGLE, AND DIGITAL SKILLS FOR ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT

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Nigeria is endowed with a population of about 200 million people, with nearly 50 million using the internet. This has positioned the country as Africa’s most promising and suitable destination for foreign investors to participate in its economic development.

By Zeenat Sambo

It is no surprise that global tech giants like Google, Facebook, Netflix, Microsoft, and others chose Nigeria as a base to flag their technological investment. Such investments are helping the continent’s most populous nation to promote digital entrepreneurship and grow its thriving startup ecosystem.

Google as a multinational technology company that focuses on artificial intelligence, search engine, online advertising, cloud computing, computer software, quantum computing, e-commerce, and consumer electronics has overtime channeled its innovative projects to help African countries develop their digital sphere.

With the launch of its first Product Development Centre in Africa sited in Lagos, Google announced that its mission is to make the Internet helpful to Africans, while also partnering with governments, policymakers, educators, entrepreneurs, and businesses to shape the next wave of innovation in the continent.

Before this initiative, Google has over time created innovative programmes to streamline Nigeria’s economic sectors into its technological terrain. For instance, it outlined its readiness to help the country’s media companies to achieve milestones by improving users’ experience regarding news delivery.

In 2021, three Nigerian media organisations were among 22 successful recipients of the Google News Initiative’s second Middle East, Turkey, and Africa Innovation Challenge. Priority was given to projects that reflect and demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the news industry.

The media outlets were given the responsibility to tell news across the region and to cover topics ranging from audience development to virtual reality storytelling. The project was not only to the reader’s advantage. It built an easy-to-use subscription management service that enables African publishers to monetise their audiences without technical expertise.

Being an eco-friendly tech company, it anticipated the inclusion of Eco-Nai+ by Ripples Nigeria in its projects. Eco-Nai+ is the first Nigeria digital geo-journalism platform that combats climate change through media innovation.

Through its 2019 Google for Nigeria Projects themed, “Making our products more helpful to more”, Google opened up new opportunities for Nigerians to venture into the world of digital technologies.

For the first time, it introduced a dedicated travel mode (Google map) to provide directions and navigation for motorcycles in Nigeria. Also, it launched navigation instructions in a Nigerian voice for both motorcycle and car driving modes, so that local names and places get pronounced as they should be.

This was like a magical guide for many tourists, motorists, and traders to efficiently deliver their services without any geographical hindrance.

To encourage women in digital marketing, Google again extended its philanthropy by committing $1million to support programs, helping Nigerian women entrepreneurs under its new initiatives aimed at supporting women-owned businesses.

In the effort to sustain development, Google West Africa announced plans to strengthen the contribution of Information Communication Technology (ICT) to the nation’s Gross National Product (GDP). These plans are being consolidated through collaboration with industry regulator, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to achieve the Digital Nigeria Agenda.

The partnership between Google and NITDA offers easy access to accurate data representation, prevents data duplications, and brings to an end the recurring chaos of mismanagement of information due to poor infrastructure.

The recent laying of the Equiano cable across West Africa, and its landing in Nigeria, reaffirms tremendous progress in improving Nigeria’s internet operations and connectivity. In the next five years, it is expected that there would be additional 300 million internet users in Africa, thereby increasing the demand for more online activities.

The cable which connects Nigeria, Namibia, St. Helena, and South Africa, would exponentially improve network capacity compared to the last cable built for Africa, reduce internet pricing by 21 percent and increase Google’s global internet infrastructure.

According to Google Managing Director for Africa, Nitin Gajria, the tech giant’s business plan for Africa includes a $10million fund for low-interest loans to small businesses across Africa. He reaffirmed Google’s commitment to create about 1.6 million jobs in Nigeria, build capacity, harness potential and streamline digital inclusion.

These innovations by Google will assist NITDA to facilitate a central database system in Nigeria to solve problems for stakeholders. Errors due to the multiplying database have made it difficult for many Nigerians to access or retrieve their data for verification.

The cooperation between NITDA and Google also will help to improve the performance of micro, small and medium enterprises in the digital market, and facilitate a broader platform to ease grassroots participation in digital entrepreneurship.

Such steady investment will help empower Nigerian business enterprises, support local trade initiatives, boost commerce/sales, and encourage numerous stakeholders to connect with local and international business/trade networks.

It is important for the Nigerian government stakeholders to collectively focus on harnessing the opportunities offered by liasing with the global tech giant to engender sustainable prosperity in the digital economy.

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FG FACES TOUGH CHOICES TO STABILISE ECONOMY AS INFLATION BITES HARDER

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Nigeria Economy

• Inflation rate jumps to 16.8% in April, highest in eight months • Fuel scarcity, insecurity, hike in Jet A1 compound woes • Don’t expect deceleration until September, Adi suggests • MPR may join interest rate hike fray

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) could bite the bullet next week when it reconvenes and adjusts the policy rate for the first time since September 2020 as resurging inflation concerns and interest rate hike across the world put Nigeria in a difficult position.

According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for April released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), yesterday, the headline inflation rate has climbed to 16.8 per cent, the highest in eight months.

The soaring inflation rate, driven by fuel price increases and accelerating costs for food, including bread and cereals, rose to 18.4 per cent from 17.2 per cent in March.

The jump in fuel and food items is driven by global supply disruptions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, analysts have equally pointed out.

Also, shortages of jet fuel have led to airline operators increasing fare prices by nearly 100 per cent or in some cases suspending operations as the price of the commodity rose from N190 to N700 per litre in the wake of Russia invasion.

The hike in inflation means the purchasing power of consumers, some of whom live on a minimum wage of N18,000 per month, is being eroded.

According to Ikemesit Effiong, analyst and head of research at sociopolitical risk advisory firm based in Lagos, SBM Intelligence, “Nigeria is not just dealing with rising inflation, when combined with high levels of unemployment and low growth – public and private – Africa’s largest economy is in the throes of an extended bout of stagflation.”

Increased insecurity across parts of the country and the slow ramp-up of election spending could also combine to ensure that prices will remain high for much of the rest of the year, he added.

While the figure is not out-of-range with the data of the past two years, the month-on-month (MoM) change is disturbingly high at 1.76 per cent.

It was the second time the MoM change in CPI would exceed 1.75 per cent in six months, the first being last December at 1.82 per cent. The MoM change in Nigeria’s inflation has not risen to the December figure in five years. It was 1.88 per cent in May 2017.

The volatility of prices of essential commodities in recent months as demonstrated by the data from December to April, which are in the range of 1.47 and 1.82 per cent, puts household real income and expenditure planning at red alert.

The renewed inflation could also mean that the MPC cannot continue to maintain its static position on inflation control. Since September 2020, the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR), a monetary tool that determines liquidity, has remained at 11.5 per cent and there have been speculation that it would be raised this year.

The hawkish outlook around the globe has sent a strong message to Nigeria, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank advising countries battling with fiscal and monetary headwinds, like Nigeria, to follow the global trend.

At the recent MPC meeting, Nigeria narrowly escaped an interest rate hike with six against 10 member votes. For the first time in over a decade, the United States Federal Reserve System increased the interest rate by 50 basis points. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the United Kingdom and many other countries have raised their rates as a necessary option to keep inflation at a manageable level.

The rate hike fever has also spread to Africa, with Egypt and South Africa increasing theirs. To contain fast-rising inflation currently estimated at 23.6 per cent. The Bank of Ghana shockingly increased the lending rate by 250 basis points in one fell swoop, bringing the benchmark to 17 per cent. 

Not many economists expect the MPR, the rate-fixing arm of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to continue its conservative stance that started after the lending rate was adjusted from 12.5 per cent to 11.5 per cent in 2020.

But an economist and senior lecturer at the Lagos Business School, Dr. Bongo Adi, told The Guardian that rate hike is not a straight-forward decision for Nigeria at the moment, considering that the unaffordable commercial interests are already sending the private sector, especially small businesses to tailspin.

According to figures sourced from CBN database, the maximum lending rate in March stood at 26.61 per cent. In February, it was even higher at 30.73 per cent while prime borrowing averaged 11.77 per cent in the first quarter.

Sadly, the small businesses, which Dr. Muda Yusuf, a former director-general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), believes need affordable funding the most, pay the highest rate for capital.

A higher MPR is expected to have a transmission effect on the cost of commercial loans, and Adi said the CBN might see this as a major reason to leave the interest at its current rate.

“The cost of funds is already too high. If we increase the interest rate, it means the situation will be compounded and businesses will suffer more. If you ask me, I don’t see them increasing it. Any attempt to hike the rates will worsen the situation right now,” he said.

Considering the fear that Nigeria risks losing capital to other markets, Adi said no decision would be an easy one for the CBN.

“The debt servicing to revenue ratio of the government is already too high. So, government will suffer from a higher interest rate because the interest on loans will be higher. It is extremely going to be a difficult choice,” the economist said.

But there is no full-proof interest rate hike that would have any reasonable impact on prices as some economists have argued that the country’s inflation is largely imported and cost-push.

For instance, the cost of diesel, a major component of production cost, has increased by over 200 per cent year-to-date (YTD), which has distorted the domestic supply chain and increased unit costs for many manufacturers.

Sadly, Adi said the uptick in inflation could continue in the next four months as “we have just entered planting season and harvest will not be due till August.”

He said the food component would continue to cause a major upset, at least, in the meantime.  Volatile food prices have a major distortion in the country’s inflation dating back to August 2019 when the land borders were closed. At some points, the differential between core and food inflation was over six per cent. That has narrowed but stood at 4.19 per cent in April. The coming months could see the gap expanding reasonably, especially with no solution yet to the flour supply shock triggered by the Russia invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to The Guardian, Prof. Sheriffdeen Tella, an economist, said the steep inflation rise was expected following a continued increase in prices of fuel. Tella said it was also expected because the exchange rate has weakened with serious consequences for the majorly import-dependent economy.

He said: “The inflation rate is likely to go higher as we get close to election year. Even though election year is around the corner, the prices of fuel and diesel are not abating; the cost of food and other goods are equally rising.

“However, when the campaigns start, there are indications that they will bring back more dollars, which may reduce the value of dollar against the naira and bring down inflation.”

Tella advised poor Nigerians to immediately begin to adjust their consumption pattern if they must overcome the current challenges.

Another professor of economics at the University of Uyo, Akpan Ekpo, said: “We have rising inflation and unemployment coupled with the higher exchange rate. All these are not helping the matter when you consider the effects of COVID-19 and the war between Russia and Ukraine.”

Dr. Tope Fasua, an economist and former presidential candidate, argued that the reckless importation of goods that could be manufactured in the country is a major driver of inflation.

“I am not a supporter of inflation targeting. I am a supporter of productivity targeting. What we need to do to tackle inflation without production is to tactically find a way to close the economy to encourage local production of things we import. Perhaps, that will take care of imported inflation to a large extent.” 

He submitted that Nigeria’s inflation is multidimensional, adding: “The economy is not a productive one and that is where the challenge is. From the supply side, producers, retailers and even importers have to mark up their prices to reflect the cost of production or importation.”

THE GUARDIAN

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