The same desperate regional social conditions that are driving the labor shortages in the citrus industry are also deepening in Belize.

Prices of commodities and basic necessities are skyrocketing and average folks just can't afford to purchase what's on the shelves. Fuel is at an all-time high and everyday food items like chicken have already gone up - and flour may be next.

But while finances are already strained, some merchants are taking advantage of the rest of the public by gouging the prices. But the Ministry of Agriculture has taken note and according to the minister, Jose Mai, gouging will soon become a ticket-able offense and they'll be cracking down on those merchants.

Hon. Jose Mai, Minister of Agriculture
"The post COVID shock, the cost of ocean freight has gone up by 300%, the cost of goods has gone up another 80%, this morning I was explaining on OYE and I showed them the facts, the research has shown that all these commodities have gone up plus gouging, merchants have been taking the opportunity that the price is going up and they add another amount of the existing high cost, which is wrong and has to be dealt with."

"I don't know if there's any mechanism where you can go to a restaurant and say you can't sell your chicken at such a high price, you go to Princess or the fancy restaurants you have in Belize City, Midtown, whatever, you will buy a chicken for $30, a Cordon Bleu for $40, but the line still long at the Chiney. But I think at the end of the day it's the consumer preference, you want to eat at Midtown, you want to eat at Princess, you want to eat at the fancy places where you pay $40 or you can eat cheaper at the Chinese store, it's your decision, but because the price of chicken has gone up by 9 cents I don't see why people will raise the rice and beans or the fry chicken by a dollar, but again it's the consumer who has that choice."

"But as we speak right now, the attorney general's office is working on amending the supplies control act. We are now moving to ticket-able offenses. Going to a store and seeing that a merchant is going, unacceptable, especially in these difficult times. So instead of taking them to court and going through a lengthy process and then two years after, the court rules, that will not be the case. Our officers now will walk into that store, look at what that store has - let me tell you what the offenses are. If you walk into a store and the price controlled goods are not itemized, that is an infraction, breaking the law. If you go to the store and the corn beef does not have no price, that is another violation. If I ask you for your invoices and you don't have it, that is another infraction. And all these we are ticketing, probably $250, $300, but beside that, other that ticketing you, we will close your store, you pay you ticket and when you come and bring your receipts, you can open. But we will also make it public so the public knows you have been caught gouging. It's up to you now if you want to go and buy there."

A release today from the Caribbean Millers' Association - of which Belize is a part - refers to a quote, "imminent or actual prices increases in the cost of producing flour due to increases of greater than 40% in the cost of raw material. This coupled with increases in the cost of fuel and overall operating costs is unsustainable by any manufacturing entity and therefore must be ultimately passed on in some measure to the consumers." End quote. Bottom line, you can expect an increase in the cost of flour and bread - as a result of the Ukraine invasion.

Channel 7