More than 400 food items are being imported directly into the UAE and trade is proceeding smoothly after changes to the system that ended the dominance of agents, according to the Ministry of Economy.
"Direct imports of food following the liberation of the trade has proved successful," Dr Hashim Al Nuaimi, Director of the ministry's Consumer Protection Department, told Emirates Business.
"There are no obstacles or difficulties and currently vendors are importing more than 400 food items directly. The market in the UAE is open and free and there is no monopoly. "The ministry has succeeded in eliminating all forms of monopoly, especially for food items. And, now it can be seen that honest competition among vendors serves the economy as well as the consumers."
Al Nuaimi was asked about complaints from some co-operative societies that they had problems obtaining certain types of basmati rice and infants' milk directly because exporters insisted shipments were handled by their exclusive agents in the UAE.
"We respect the agreements and transactions taking place between agents and clients in the country, and we also protect the rights of everyone. Co-operative societies have to exert more effort to get the specific food items they need. The international market is open to everyone," said the director.
"Lots of types of rice and infants' milk are available from many countries, and co-operative societies and major distributors import huge amounts of food items of excellent quality from different countries."
He said co-operative chains were selling food at good prices and there was honest competition among them, and, in addition, major supermarket chains were selling consumer goods at prices lower than before.
He added: "There is no doubt that the consumer is the ultimate beneficiary."
When asked about the action taken by the ministry regarding the increase in the price of sugar, he said: "Sugar price has gone up all over the world but the rise in the UAE was slight compared to other countries, where sugar prices doubled. The ministry endeavours to ensure sugar is sold at a suitable price and encourages traders to offer discounts."
He said prices of consumer goods were stable and the cost of other goods has fallen. "The ministry conducted a study that confirmed prices declined in 2009 compared to 2008 and the ministry is working to stabilise prices at last year's levels so consumers won't complain of price increases."
"The ministry is looking forward to seeing more initiatives from vendors, who are currently selling hundreds of items at discounted prices. The ministry is expecting more discounts, especially in view of the decrease in prices globally."
He said the department had launched a campaign to ensure shoppers were aware of their rights, and added that the Ministry of Justice was setting up 10 courts that would protect consumers.