Import prices rise drastically in Turkey amid pandemic

Hayriye Ustun strolled around her neighborhood marketplace looking for the best prices as she suffered from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has sent food prices through the roof.

“I can assure you that each week, I see the prices of items going up, and it is very challenging for us because wages stay almost steady,” the 47-year-old housewife told Xinhua in Istanbul’s Kozyatagi neighborhood.

Ustun complained that she needs more money each month to fill her two bags of groceries for her family of four, living in Turkey’s biggest and busiest city. Her husband is the sole breadwinner of the family.

“Food prices are burning our pockets,” the woman lamented.

The frustration is particularly unpleasant during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started last week, an occasion for families to gather for fast-breaking meals.

This gathering tradition, however, is proscribed for the second year in a row because of a re-spike in daily COVID-19 cases, which have hit all-time high in daily numbers in Turkey, surpassing 60,000.

“Sunflower oil is like liquid gold. Its price has gone up by 50 percent since last year,” a vendor said, noting that the price of vegetables has nearly doubled in the same period.

The price of bread has also doubled since last year. A delicious round flatbread, pide, baked during Ramadan, has its price hiked by 28 percent compared to 2020.

Prices of necessities have surged in Turkey, which relies heavily on imports over the past year amid the coronavirus pandemic. The double-digit inflation and unemployment rates also pushed the prices to a higher level.

The Turkish lira has halved in value since the 2018 currency crisis. Unemployment also remained high, registering at 13.4 percent in February.

“We have no choice but to pass increased import costs to our consumers,” Serkan Yetisen, manager of a cosmetics shop, told Xinhua. “We are not happy with this, but otherwise, our business will not survive.”

He stressed that over half of the products he sells are imported with foreign currency, explaining how the weak lira has pushed prices higher.

Turkey’s annual inflation climbed to 16.2 percent in March for the first time since mid-2019, as further lira weakness pressured prices via imports.

The central bank expected the inflation to drop to 9.4 percent at year-end and pledged a tight policy until it hits the 5 percent target in 2023.

Enver Erkan, a chief economist at Tera Securities, said that the inflation rate is bound to go upwards in the coming months because of a weak national currency and rising oil prices.

“The upward trend in prices will prompt a revision of the inflation target for this year as in current conditions it is not possible that this objective will be attained,” he told Xinhua.

Turks believe that the economy is their country’s number one problem, according to a survey conducted by Research Istanbul, an independent research firm.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan instructed last week the government to distribute potatoes and onions to poorer families to support both agricultural producers and low-income families.

The Turkish leader said that the economy is on a good track and will rebound in 2021 after recording a 1.8 percent gross domestic product growth in 2020 despite the global health crisis.

The impact of the pandemic on the country’s already vulnerable economy has been essential, causing thousands of businesses and companies to close down, sending more people into the unemployment pool.