Consumers are finding it tougher to find familiar eatables, medicines, lifestyle items etc and are paying more for the ones they do
Current restrictions by the government on imports of consumer goods are affecting shopkeepers and their customers from all walks of life as much as the restrictions on vegetables.
Shops and Pharmacies across the country are rapidly running out of many consumer goods from eatables to basic medicines.
The decision of the government to restrict import of consumer items came amid the tightening of its monetary policy undertaken a few months back to address the depleting foreign exchange reserves and Indian Rupee (INR) crunch.
Tshering, of Tshering General Shop said, apart from shop owners, the public is the most affected. “Now there is a shortage of more than 20% of goods in my shop”, she said.
She added that the goods on which restrictions have been imposed are the goods most consumed by Bhutanese people.
The common products facing shortage are cooking oil, white rice, biscuits, beverages, prepared food and noodles among others.
Owner of Tshering Choden Tsongkhang said ever since restrictions were imposed on certain products, she has suffered a shortage of 10% in products available in her shop. “When we don’t have the products that our customers need, we lose them forever”, she said.
“Recent restrictions have affected everyone’s business”, said Dolma of Green Shop, a clothing store in town. She added that while supply of clothing is important, the cap on the issuance of USD is not reasonable given the amount of products that a shop like her’s has to bring home for sale. “The permitted amount of USD is sufficient only for travelling, eating and some personal shopping even in the nearest destinations like Thailand”, she said.
Drugs and other medical products which have been classified as essential imports are also scarce making it difficult for pharmacies to meet the demands of the sick.
Jharna Rai of Kuenphen Medical Shop said, “we were earlier told that as long as we submit proper documents, there won’t be a problem in availing INR especially for pharmaceutical products but our wholesale dealers say they have no INR to import and supply products for us’’.
She said as a result the turnover of her shop has reduced by Nu 300,000 to Nu 400,000 a month.
Nima Choden of Norling Medical said that she has been deprived of 95% of the medicines and products she used to sell.
An employee with Ngangpa Pharmacies, which is one of the wholesale dealers who supplies medicines to most retailers, cited INR issues. He said there is difficulty in making payments for transportation in INR.
Proprietor of My Mart, Kamala Gurung said most customers tend to choose the products which they have always used but are not available anymore. She also added that Olive oil, one of the banned products that are permitted only for hotels, is of high demand in her store.
An owner of one of the departmental stores in the capital who wanted anonymity fearing repercussions said, “the maximum portion of the products classified as non-essential are in fact very essential for the economy and the public.”
He said, even if Bhutanese citizens can do away with the products, tourists visiting the country require the products for consumption while in Bhutan, referring to Tourism Council of Bhutan’s high end tourist target.
An employee with Hotel Kisa said, “We have stocks which may last for the next few weeks after which the hotel will be severely affected”.
As the peak tourist season is on, many hotel owners said that apart from the shortage in consumer goods they have resorted to buying local vegetables whose prices are sky high adding to their operational costs.
General Manager of Zhiwa Ling Hotel in Paro, Brent Hyde said the hotel is facing huge shortage of expensive beverages and groceries among others. “We try and use local products as much as we can”, he said.
Hotel Pedling’s General Manager Dechen Choden said, “Usually we purchase groceries and supplies on credit system from the vendors but now shopkeepers refuse to cooperate”.
She said, the hotel has been importing goods from third countries till now but is now forced to bring in all the house- keeping products from India which is also restricted.“We have stopped buying expensive liquor for now because of the increase in prices as we cannot charge our customers with unreasonable prices”, she added.
However, senior officials in the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) ruled out any shortage in consumer goods.
Officiating Director General of the Department of Trade (DoT), Dophu Tshering, said DoT conducted a study which showed that the three main wholesale dealers are supplying adequate essential items to retailers across the country. “Tashi Commercial Corporation (TCC), Damchen wholesale agencies and Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) is supplying from Phuntsholing to all Dzongkhags”.
He said DoT is constantly monitoring the flow of all the essential goods in addition to frequent inspections.
“May be a few shops couldn’t avail supply but we have also asked the suppliers to enhance purchase and supply the same to wholesale dealers and retailers”, he added.
The INR crunch however continues to benefit businessmen along the border towns. Indian workers working within Bhutan’s border are bound to buy goods from Bhutanese soil as the Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN) is no longer accepted across the border.
In addition to the shortage of consumer goods, inflation is also affecting the general public. In Samdrup Jongkhar, Drangtshen Tshongkhang’s owner Loday Dorji said there has been increase in the prices of some products such as cooking oil which has increased by Nu 10 to 15.
He said, “We price all the products according to the purchasing cost which the suppliers charge”.Although, businessmen along the border are not affected by the inflation, he said the public are bound to pay extra.
To this, Dophu said, “dealers are not allowed to overcharge just because of limited stock; we are constantly monitoring the entire distribution system”.
Regional Manager of Tashi Commercial Corporation’s consumer division, Subash Rana said, “TCC imports only from India and the supply has been consistent.”“Except for some hindrances in availing INR owing to the long procedure, we haven’t faced much problem in importing goods”, Rana added.
BB Mongar of Dagana Tshongkhang said, though there is supply from the wholesale importers, the supply is intermittent and not as much as it used to be.
There are more than 5,000 non-essential items in the Bhutan trade classification list, which include goods such as olive oil, biscuits, jams, fruit jellies, ice coffee, perfumes, shampoos, powders, manicure and pedicure items, deodorants, luxury furniture and tableware, kitchenware and toilet items. The imports of which has been forbidden, following a notification from the trade department issued on 6th April 2012.
Trade statistics reflect Bhutan’s major items imported from India in 2010 was Nu 5.8bn of which more than Nu 3bn was spent on import of rice, beer, paper products, wood products, clothing, prepared food and beverages.