Premier urges calm, says toilet paper supply sufficient

Taipei, Premier Lai Ching-te (???) urged consumers on Tuesday not to engage in panic-buying of toilet paper, saying that domestic supply is sufficient to meet people's needs.

Speaking before a hearing at the Legislative Yuan, Lai said it was unnecessary for consumers to buy large volumes of toilet paper amid concerns of an imminent price hike.

Not only will the local toilet supply be sufficient, Lai said, but product prices will also remain stable without any major fluctuations.

"Don't panic," Lai said. "Local consumer prices are expected to stay tame."

Lai cited Perng Fai-nan (???), who just retired as the governor of Taiwan's central bank after an almost 20-year tenure, as saying Taiwan's consumer price index will remain stable this year, and he urged the public to have confidence in the economy.

The premier, however, did not specifically address possible price hikes for toilet paper.

Major hypermarket operators, such as Carrefour and RT-Mart, said late last week they have been informed by toilet paper makers that product prices will be raised by 10-30 percent in mid-March at the earliest, citing a spike in international pulp prices.

Pulp prices, in fact, appear to be on the rise. The RBC commodity price index in January showed pulp prices rising to US$1,200 per metric ton at the start of 2018, up more than US$200 a metric ton from the start of 2017.

Japanese business media Nikkei also reported pulp prices to Japan hitting near record highs in December after rising over 20 percent in the previous three months.

The news of imminent price hikes sparked a massive run on the commodity over the weekend, both at brick and mortar outlets and on e-commerce platforms.

TV footage showed empty shelves in the toilet paper sections of major hypermarkets, and online retailer PChome reported selling 5 million packages of toilet paper in just three days, up 22-fold from its regular sales volume.

Though he offered no specifics on pricing issues, Lai said he has instructed Vice Premier Shih Jun-ji (???) and a price monitoring task force under the Cabinet to look into whether there was collusion on pricing or hoarding of supply.

On Tuesday, the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) met with representatives from three major toilet paper suppliers and five leading retailers in Taiwan to look into the massive run on the product.

After the meeting, FTC deputy chief Perng Shaw-jiin (???) said it was possible that the planned price hike violated price-fixing provisions in the Fair Trade Act.

He said the commission is determined to maintain market order and will meet with suppliers and retailers one on one starting from March 1 to get a better understanding of the situation.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel