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Jai Leladharsingh

The Confederation of Regional Business Chambers are among those calling on the Agostini’s Group to ensure that its recent acquisition of Oscar Francois Ltd won’t negatively impact citizens’ health care costs and supplies.

The confederation represents over 15 business entities and chambers from all over T&T. The group spoke on Monday regarding Agostini’s’ acquisition of leading pharmaceutical distributor Oscar Francois and associate company Intersol Ltd. The Agostini’s group – majority-owned by the Mouttet family – includes several companies, including the largest retail pharmacy chain SuperPharm.

Concerns are being expressed by businesses and the Pharmaceutical Board about the acquisition affecting other pharmacies and businesses. They’ve voiced concerns on effects of possible monopoly, including squeezing out other businesses, reliability of supply of items and the effect for consumers concerning prices.

The T&T Free Trading Commission, which approved the acquisition, has noted a stream of concerns about it. Responding to queries on Monday, the TTFTC said it will continue monitoring the operation post-acquisition. The commission has also urged members of the public to submit helpful information if they are aware of anti-competitive behaviour and practices that may constitute a possible breach of the Fair Trading Act.

On Monday, confederation co-ordinator Jai Leladharsingh said, “The confederation is pleased to observe that confidence in the economy is being demonstrated in a tangible manner through investments, for example via Agostini’s’ acquisitions. The confederation expresses hope that this new entity will be in a position to enhance and improve the reliability of supply of much-needed pharmaceuticals and other personal care products.

“However, concerns are being expressed by the confederation and there is the hope that this recent occurrence will not negatively impact the cost of health care to citizens, especially as we’re experiencing the deleterious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He added, “The confederation urges this group to continue to demonstrate a high level of trade practices, as this would enable the citizens and other vulnerable end-users of health care to continually access their products at an economical cost. This is critical for continued efforts by national stakeholders to manage the deep uncertainties prevalent locally and globally.”

Several other confederation members added, “While big businesses can gobble up smaller businesses and expand, smaller businesses are dealing with survival and staving off collapse, as they watch other businesses close, never to reopen. In the case of a potential monopoly, distributing medicine, Government has a responsibility to protect the consumer, especially since there is a lot of suspicion about who will purchase vaccines for Government – and that’s something that needs to be clarified so that there’s no doubt.”

On Monday UNC’s Rushton Paray said he’s checking pharmacies to assess the potential impact.

But former UNC MP Dr Fuad Khan, who in a family of pharmacists, said he saw nothing wrong with the way Agostini’s was consolidating but noted the playing field should be levelled by the Health Ministry to allow pharmacies to import generic drugs especially to cater to those who can’t afford bigger priced items.

“For any sector, you must have contingencies. People only buy companies if they want to sell and more will be sold as business is shutting down all the time,” Khan said.