The other day, the government announced that it has reduced tariffs for oil products by one percentage point supposedly to cushion the impact of rising crude prices. Sounds good except this policy might end up becoming a subsidy to oil companies without achieving the social objective of “cushioning” the rise of oil products like gasoline, diesel and LPG.
The fact is that the industry is deregulated and movement of prices is determined more by global trends and the nature of local competition than government actions. Lower tariff for oil products simply means that importers are going to enjoy lower import costs or charges. Whether or not they are going to pass the lower import costs to consumers in terms lower prices is another matter. They probably won’t as they always did in the past. Market competition should theoretically force oil companies to go easy on raising prices but that’s only possible in a competitive environment. Right now, the local market is still dominated by the big three (Shell, Caltex, and Petron) and it seems the newcomers, the so-called independent oil producers, are simply taking the cue from actions of the Big Three.
The new policy therefore is another populist measure that may end up achieving nothing. The best thing the government could have done therefore is to maintain the current tariff levels and continue collecting the money to improve government finances. If policy makers suspect that oil companies are colluding, they might as well look for effective ways at bringing greater competition in the oil and energy sector.