During yesterday's session of the Parliamentary Committee on energy and trade, the debate shed light on a crucial aspect of the E-kalathi bill. It became evident that there are lingering disagreements among stakeholders and the majority of MPs on this issue. Additionally, the application of such a tool poses significant challenges due to the need to compare similar products.
The Pancyprian Hypermarkets Association firmly believes that this measure is detrimental to businesses and offers little substantial benefit to consumers.
This disagreement stands as a primary point of contention between various stakeholders, particularly between the Pancyprian Retail Trade Association and OEB in relation to e-kalathi. An illustrative example discussed during the session involved a well-known soft drink available in the Cypriot market. However, this product varies between supermarkets due to differences in its country of origin.
For instance, in one supermarket, the product may be produced in Cyprus, while in another, the same-named product may originate from a different country, such as Lebanon or Hungary. Consequently, the price of the product varies significantly, leading to noticeable fluctuations. Diko MP Chrysis Pantelidis argued that since this differentiation is not indicated on the product's label or shelf, it's an issue that the market should address, rather than relying on e-kalathi for a solution. Unfortunately, the discussion of the bill did not commence yesterday and appears to be postponed to next week.
The EPA has received assurances regarding the bill. It's worth recalling that during the previous discussion, the Commission for the Protection of Competition expressed concerns about the potential creation of cartel-like conditions through the bill's implementation. In early September, the PSC's new directorate held a meeting with Energy Minister George Papanastasiou, where assurances were given that the commission's proposals would be considered. The PSC had forwarded comments and recommendations to the ministry during their consultation. Subsequently, a meeting between the new Commission and the Minister of Energy provided assurances that the suggested improvements and regular monitoring of the platform, along with data sharing if requested, would be undertaken. The Energy Committee has requested the PSC's position on this matter in writing.
Nevertheless, debate still lingers on whether this tool will ultimately benefit consumers or harm businesses. The Hypermarkets Association, led by its president Charalambos Papantoniou, strongly opposes the bill, foreseeing negative consequences for small and medium-sized enterprises in the state. They believe that the measure won't significantly impact consumers' wallets, especially considering the rising costs of fuel, electricity, and interest rates that have placed households under strain. The Association contends that there is already sufficient transparency in the market regarding the prices of essential products. They highlight that supermarkets advertise prices through various channels, including print and electronic media, websites, social media, and periodic offers, enabling consumers to make informed choices. Furthermore, they argue that the implementation of the platform encourages the exchange of sensitive information between businesses, potentially violating competition laws.
DISY's Averof Neophytou continues to oppose the bill, characterizing it as a primarily symbolic move that won't address the issue of increased consumer living costs. Commission President Kyriakos Hatzigiannis expressed serious concerns about the implications of implementing the digital tool, emphasizing the need for thorough prior consultation.
Diko MP Chrysis Pantelidis criticized what he perceived as political tactics to block the government's initiative, urging DISY and other parties to engage in a substantive discussion of the bill within the committee. AKEL MP Kostas Kostas expressed support for efforts that benefit consumers but noted that institutions themselves have reservations about this measure. He stressed that while transparency is essential, this measure alone may not effectively address consumer issues.
[This article was translated from its Greek original]