Shoppers share the responsibility of ensuring that store owners do not overcharge, the Minister of Economy said yesterday.
Sultan Al Mansouri said that his ministry could not fix the prices of all products, nor monitor all shops, despite taking measures to protect consumer rights over the past four years.
The minister was responding to a complaint about "seasonal inflation" by the FNC member Hamad Al Rahoumi (Dubai).
Mr Al Rahoumi had complained that shopowners were flouting the ministry's guidelines and increasing prices during Ramadan, the two Eids and back-to-school seasons.
Mr Al Mansouri said a system linking Customs with the ministry enabled it to compare the prices of products before and after they were imported.
"This way we are aware of any changes made to the price," he said, adding monitors were then sent out to check the prices of products in the market.
But Mr Al Rahoumi complained the price of fish increased in Ramadan, while the price of meat and mutton increased ahead of Eid Al Adha. He said that some unscrupulous traders charged customers differently depending on their nationality.
"Is it a free market or can we fix those prices?" asked Mr Al Rahoumi. "Do you oblige the market not to increase those prices or do you just give them a friendly instruction?"
The minister said some products were linked to international prices, so sometimes rises were unavoidable.
But Mr Al Mansouri said: "There are some products that the ministry sets a cap on at the country's borders so we have the ability to control what happens to them.
"But it is extremely difficult to control every market and shop in the country. The consumer should report unfair rises because how can we reach every grocery story in the UAE? It is impossible."
The minister said consumers could use an iPhone application - UAE MOE - that provides comprehensive information about products, prices and locations.
He said there were "many methods" for them to report abuses, such as contacting the ministry or the radio show Al Bath Al Mubasher.
Mr Al Mansouri said the issue was "under control", pointing out that increases in the price index of food and beverages went down from 5.88 per cent in 2011 to 5.24 per cent last year.