Ban pushes cosmetics trade into the shadowsView(s):
By Nadia Fazlulhaq
A severe shortage of cosmetics caused by months-long import restrictions has opened the door to informal and illegal channels for these products.
This week the navy seized 680 packs of cosmetic products and 2,930 bars of soaps inside two dinghies in an operation in the coastal waters of Mohoththuwaram, Kalpitiya. The cosmetics were hidden among smuggled dried sea cucumber and cashew.
Sri Lanka Customs Spokesman Sudattha Silva said there has been a significant increase in detections of cosmetics at all ports.
“Individuals and beauty salon owners travelling from West Asia, India and Singapore hand carry cosmetics or in their luggage. Cosmetics are also concealed with other legitimate imports. The main intention is to sell at exorbitant rates,” he said.
Professional makeup artist and bridal dresser Priyantha Kumara said make-up artistes continue to struggle with the high costs of cosmetics.
“Major salons can afford to purchase specific brands from leading importers of cosmetics, however, small-scale beauty salons suffer from lack of products requested by customers. A foundation which cost Rs. 7,000 two years ago now is about Rs.20,000. All other products have doubled in price,” he said.
Another makeup artiste said she purchases items from people who bring them from the UAE.
Finance State Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told the Sunday Times that to halt illegal imports, a circular has been issued permitting middle-scale importers (who have not been registered with the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) and the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority but have been importing for the past five years) to bring in limited amounts.
“The forex crisis led to import restrictions on cosmetics. However, now imports are allowed to the above group of importers to bring down by 50%. This way there will not be a shortage,” he said.
The minister said over eight containers of cosmetics from the UK, Singapore, UAE, India, China and Pakistan worth over Rs. 50 million are held up.
“Most of the stocks are branded cosmetics, but imported without legal import documents. Instead of destroying the products, plans are to hold a public auction and sell them to interested parties,” he said.
However, stocks will be inspected by the NMRA to ensure only quality cosmetics sans harmful chemicals are sold.
Though importers are able to register with the NMRA, the regulator does not have powers to act against sellers of illegal products.
“The public should be on alert as illegal beauty products may contain harmful chemicals like high mercury levels. Hair dyes too should be purchased with care. Always visit a trustworthy beauty salon that uses quality products,” advised Amith Perera, chief food and drug inspector and head of NMRA’s enforcement division.
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