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Our View: Insanity of regulating sales period must end

IT BEGGARS belief that we have had a law in place, regulating shop sales for 25 years which includes 11 years as an EU member-state. This insanity is set to end officially if the legislature approves the bill abolishing the law, even though deputies have expressed some reservations.

The law, in force since 1990, gave the commerce minister the power to decide the period during which shops were entitled to reduce prices. A ministerial decree would be issued stipulating the periods – usually in February and July/August – of the shop sales. Recognising the absurdity of prohibiting shops from reducing prices when they chose to, deputies came up with an equally ridiculous compromise at some stage. Shops could cut prices when they chose to, but it was illegal to advertise this. Price reductions could only be advertised during the sales period decreed by the minister.

Outside this period, shops were allowed to cut prices, but were not allowed to inform consumers about it through advertising. The idea was that unregulated shop sales and their promotion through advertising gave an advantage to the big shops and by making this against the law the small shops would be protected from what was described as ‘unfair competition’. It was the same dubious reasoning, promoted by the association of small shops owners POVEK and warmly embraced by the political parties that wanted to prohibit Sunday shopping – protection of the small shops.

The reason this law will now be abolished is because the authorities had tried to enforce it as recently as 2011 with the result that retailers appealed against the fine imposed and won. The Supreme Court ruled a year later that the law violated the EU directive on unfair commercial practices which superseded local law. It was another blow to the command economy ideals of the political parties which always believed that the legislature rather than the market should decide how retail spending should be distributed. The initiative to ban Sunday shopping was based on the same flawed thinking.

Now, to save face, deputies have decided that the abolition of the law would leave the consumer unprotected, because shops would not be obliged to include the original and discount price on a product. Surely, regulations aimed at protecting the consumer could be drafted if they do not already exist in other legislation.

But how ironic that deputies have suddenly decided that the consumer had to be protected. For 25 years there was a law supposedly for the protection of small shops, which prevented consumers benefiting from round-the-year price competition among shops and all parties supported it. And now that the law has to be abolished the parties have decided to become the guardians of the consumer.

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