Venezuela sets new price controls, with eggs costing more than a month's wages

FILE PHOTO: General view of Francisco Fajardo highway, virtually empty during the national quarantine in response to the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Caracas, Venezuela March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela on Thursday published a list of new price controls for 27 basic food items, fixing the price of eggs, some cuts of meat, and sausage above the monthly minimum wage President Nicolas Maduro set for the inflation-stricken country this week.

The move marked the return of strict state economic controls, after more than a year of relaxation in the face of U.S. sanctions. Maduro’s socialist government is now seeking to calm inflation in the face of a collapse in crude prices, fuel shortages and a national lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

According to a document published by Commerce Minister Eneida Laya on Twitter, products including butter and powdered milk will cost more than 400,000 bolivares, which is the new minimum wage the government set on Monday. That is equivalent to just $2 at the official exchange rate.

The document listed the prices both in bolivares and in Petros, a state-run cryptocurrency.

Private food-production companies and industry groups have warned that setting price controls will mark a return to the scarcity of basic goods that plagued the indebted OPEC nation for years, exacerbated by a collapse in crude prices in 2014.

Supermarket supply has improved in the year since the government relaxed price controls, but with inflation of 3,365% in the year through March, according to the opposition-held National Assembly, many goods were sold at prices beyond the reach of most Venezuelans.

The new prices set by the government are generally lower than current levels, but not by a significant amount.

Reporting by Corina Pons; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Peter Cooney