Iran Considers Rationing, Distributing Food Coupons, As Sanctions Bite Harder

Iran may be considering a plan to ration foodstuffs and other essential commodities, according to reports of developments at the Iranian Parliament.

On September 2, the parliament approved the double-urgency of a bill that calls on the government to import essential commodities and sell the goods to the nation at subsidized prices at cooperatives and state-owned shops, said the parliament’s website.

MPs who have tabled the bill listed meat, rice, sugar, bread, and other items as essential commodities.

MP Mohammad Mahmoudi Shahneshin suggested essential commodities including foodstuffs should be distributed via coupons or other means, Iranian media reported.

Rationing coupons were used in Iran during and after the war with Iraq in the 1980s, when food and other essential goods were scarce.

The idea of distributing coupons was also put forward earlier by economists and members of the parliament as a way to cope with the effects of U.S. sanctions against Iran, but the Rouhani administration has so far resisted the measure, fearing its “psychological impact.”

A double-urgency bill commits the parliament to decide on the issue by the following day. However, some members of the parliament such as Tehran MP Alireza Mahjoub have called for a triple-urgency, which requires for immediate decision.

The bill calls on the government “to organize a network for the distribution of essential commodities via cooperatives, state-owned shops, as well as labor organizations and work-places in order to distribute families’ requirements at a subsidized rate.”

Speaking about the bill, Mohammad Mehdi Mofatteh, spokesman for the parliament’s Economic Committee, said the prices of essential commodities have been on the rise as a result of the “economic war” the United States has waged against Iran, adding that people are struggling to meet essential daily requirements for protein, dairy, and so on.

Before the parliament tabled the new bill, while ratifying the new foreign exchange policies of the central bank, the High Council of Economic Coordination called for providing essential requirements at subsidized prices.

Former Labor Minister Ali Rabiei also warned before his impeachment in early August that the nation’s resistance against crashing economic pressures should be boosted. He had mentioned “controlling food prices, providing food and medicine for the underprivileged strata of the society, and supporting small businesses” as ways of reaching that goal.

Although the new bill calls on the government to provide for essential needs, it is not yet clear which parts of the government would be involved in procuring the goods.

Following the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in May, U.S. President Donald Trump re-imposed the sanctions against Iran that were lifted after the deal was signed in 2015. More sanctions are to come into effect after November 4, targeting Iran’s oil and gas exports and banking transactions.

It is not clear whether and how the sanctions would affect the banking operations that would be part of Tehran’s effort to import essential commodities.

An unprecedented rise in the rate of exchange of the U.S. dollar against the Iranian currency, the rial, during the past eight months has made life harder for many Iranians and led to waves of protests that also had political undercurrents.

The point-to-point inflation rate in August reached 24 percent, and the monthly rate of inflation rose to 5.5 percent, breaking a 20-year record.

Cover photo: Iran — low-income Iranians line up to receive food supplies in southern Tehran, 03 feb 2014

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