The Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission and the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (Bscic) seem to have got into a tug of war over data relating to essential commodity salt.
The commission has recently prepared a report reviewing the local production, demand, import, marketing and local market conditions of salt, which is at variance with that of Bscic.
Annoyed, the Bscic authorities have issued a letter to the Ministry of Commerce, urging the ministry not to take into account the report of the commission.
According to the commission report, the use of salt in four sectors – edible salt, fish processing, livestock and industrial raw materials – is taken into account in calculating the demand. Data collected from stakeholders in all sectors shows that the demand for food and industrial salt has been estimated at 22.32 lakh tonnes.
The Bscic says the demand for salt in the 2019-20 fiscal year was 18.49 million tonnes. The demand for edible salt was 8.96 lakh tonnes and industrial salt 9.53 lakh tonnes.
The Bscic letter claimed that a 25-member committee was working on the demand for salt in the light of the National Salt Policy-2016. There are members of both the Bscic and Tariff Commission.
Bscic chairman Md Mostaque Hassan, NDC told The Business Standard, "The Tariff Commission has no jurisdiction to determine the demand for salt. The appointed committee will do this."
According to the National Salt Policy-2016, the demand for salt in the country in the fiscal year 2019-20 was 8.96 lakh tonnes in the edible sector, 2.45 lakh tonnes in the animal resources sector, 10,000 tonnes in fish processing, 4.17 tonnes in the industrial sector. And, there is a loss of 10 percent during refining.
However, after reviewing the information provided by the salt mill owners and the FBCCI, the Tariff Commission says the demand for salt in the industrial sector has increased to six lakh tonnes. The Bscic did not include the demand in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. The average amount of loss during salt refining is 22 percent which the Bscic says only 10 percent.
Tariff Commission member Shah Md Abu Raihan Alberuni (Trade Policy) told The Business Standard, "When a committee of the Ministry of Industry held a meeting on salt the Bscic presented information on local production, use and demand. The commission disagreed with the information and issued a 'Note of Dissent'. Later they did not take cognisance of those issues."
Data on salt production mismatch
According to the Bscic, the production was 18,24,000 tonnes against the demand of 16,57,000 tonnes in the 2018-19 financial year.
However, the report prepared by the Tariff Commission after talking to the salt farmers of Cox's Bazar, salt mill owners, shows 59,563 acres of land was used for salt cultivation in the said year. If the maximum production per acre is taken as 27 tonnes, the amount stands at 16.24 lakh tonnes.
However, as per the estimation of the Bscic, the average production per acre has to be 31.2 tonnes.
In addition, the land used for salt cultivation is declining due to industrialisation and implementation of mega projects by the government, which is threatening the local production of salt.
Md Mostaque Hassan said the commission had researched the salt and suggested import, but the country has sufficient reserves of salt.
The Tariff Commission said in its report that there was no continuity in the amount of salt imported as a raw material for the caustic soda or chemical industry. Therefore, it is necessary to impose controls on imports by determining the amount of salt required in the manufacturing industry. This is because there are tariff concessions on salt imports for this industry.
An official of the Tariff Commission, who did not want to be named, said the actual demand is higher than the demand estimated by the Bscic every year. And some dishonest traders take this opportunity. Those who import food salt in the name of use in industry and sell it in the market. As a result, local salt farmers cannot sell the salt they produce.
According to the commission's observation, the existing regulatory duty could be increased from three percent to 20 percent by fixing a tariff price of $30 per tonne on salt imports to ensure a price of Tk6.20 per farmer. In this process, if imports are opened for salt refiners from July to September every year, the farmers will not face any loss.
It is to be noted that the Tariff Commission advises the government through discussions with the parties concerned on the problems of various industries.