Dhaka: Facing a major crisis in soaring prices of essentials, Bangladesh’s interim government has sought cheaper rice from India to tackle the problem as it nears the completion of one year in office.
“We are negotiating with the Indian authorities to import rice at their domestic rates, which would have a very positive impact here and help ensure our food security,” food adviser Tapan Chowdhury said on Tuesday.
On 27 December, India had hiked the price of its rice by $75 per tonne, barring the rice-importing countries from procuring ordinary rice from it at its domestic rates.
“India’s sudden decision to raise rice export price to $500 per tonne is a big blow for us. It has left immediate impacts on Bangladesh’s rice market,” Chowdhury told reporters.
However, the food adviser said that the export price ceiling set by the Indian authorities would not affect the import of five lakh tonne rice as promised by Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee during his visit to the cyclone-affected areas.
“The ceiling is not applicable for import of that rice,” he said.
A Bangladesh delegation will visit India within two to three days to negotiate on the import of the promised quantity of rice, officials said.
Meanwhile, the government has decided to import more rice from alternative destinations like Pakistan, Thailand, and Myanmar.
Chowdhury said the government would now import rice from Pakistan, Thailand, and Myanmar to reduce dependence on India, which had recently pledged to relax the ban considering the shortage in supply due to cyclone Sidr and allow Dhaka to import 500,000 tonnes of rice through official channels.
A tender had already been floated for import of one lakh tonne rice from Thailand and specimens were being collected from others countries to identify new sources for rice import.
“We are revising the specifications so that rice can be imported from other countries as well,” he said.
Bangladesh’s staple food coarse rice has got costlier by Taka five as its different varieties were sold for prices between Taka 30 and Taka 32 a kg on Tuesday against the prices between Taka 25 and Taka 27 a week ago, state-run Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) reported.
Chowdhury expressed his helplessness in containing the market prices of rice, saying the government had got nothing to do with the price hike of rice.
“An elected government would have faced the same situation as the caretaker administration is facing now,” he said.
“I do not know how to make ends meet. We are already skipping a meal every day,” a rickshaw-puller said.
Importers claimed the prices reflected the hikes on the international market. But wholesalers and retailers flayed the argument saying that no consignment of soya bean or palm oil had entered the nation since the global price spiral.
“Importers and distributors are selling oil at high rates instead of supplying us with it as per our demand. And it all forces us to increase prices,” said Kamal Hossain, a wholesaler at the capital’s Karwan Bazar.