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High food taxes driving cost of living: Advocata Institute

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Sri Lanka has high food costs. Consumer prices are 25.22% higher (and grocery prices 34.48% higher) than in India according to data gathered for August by Numbeo, a crowd-sourced database. 

One reason for high food prices is the high import taxes on food items. The Government intervenes heavily in the trade regime for food items through para-tariffs such as a CESS and Special Commodity levy. 

The public is unaware of the extent to which food is taxed, so we have compiled a table showing the tax on basic food stuffs, items that would be on table of many families.

Import taxes add Rs. 130 to a bottle of cooking oil, Rs. 880 to a kg of butter, Rs. 625 to a kilo of yogurt and around 141% to a kilo of cheese. The list and the charts give details of the taxes.

Gathering accurate data on food taxes is a slow and painful process due to frequent changes in the tax structure. The initial exercise is limited to a few basic food items but Advocata hopes to expand this scope to eventually include all major food items. According to available data only 4.3% of Government revenue is raised through the special commodity levy imposed on food items, which ironically is almost exactly equivalent to the losses incurred by the major state enterprises. 

Given that Sri Lankans as a whole are food consumers rather than producers and Advocata urges the Government to remove para tariffs such as the Special Commodity Levy and CESS and return to a regime of low and uniform duties for all items including food. 

Advocata’s Food Tax Tracker is online at www.advocata.org/food-taxes.


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