Food price hikes raise concerns in Iran

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 22, 2013 at 2:54 pm •  Published: April 22, 2013

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians lined up to buy cooking oil and meat in Tehran on Monday, as price hikes threatened to stir discontent less than two months before presidential elections.

Prices of staples such as imported cooking oil, chicken and red meat have jumped up to 60 percent since authorities decided last week to increase the official dollar exchange rate for importers who need the currency to do business. They now pay 24,500 rials for $1, nearly double the previous rate of 12,260.

Iran's economy is flagging under international and Western sanctions over Tehran's disputed nuclear program. The West suspects the program could lead to production of weapons, but Iran denies the charge. The sanctions, which include an oil and banking embargo, have led to a shortage of foreign currency and drastically cut the government's income, while the country's persistent inflation eats into consumer buying power.

Despite government assurances that the new rate will go not go into effect for several weeks, many people are stocking up on goods before prices rise even more. The government has banned prices hikes until the new measures are in place and dispatched inspectors to keep tabs on businesses.

"Any price rise is illegal," said Mojtaba Farahani, an official in the Commerce Ministry. "So far a remarkable number of reports have been filed about wholesale and retail shops," he told the semiofficial ISNA news agency.

In Tehran, stores were crowded with people rushing to beat the hikes. In one grocery, homemaker Neda Rahimi quickly scooped up the last three bottles of cooking oil left on the shelves. "Everyday prices are going higher and higher. I will take these for now, so I have some extra at home," said the mother of two.

In another shop, 48-year-old high school teacher Asghar Niazi said a government announcement in March to raise public sector wages had encouraged stores to raise prices.