Only four trucks carrying onions from India entered Bangladesh on Sunday as the neighbouring country tightened its ban on export of the major kitchen item after allowing truckloads of onions – stranded at the border – the previous day.
Around 1,200 tonnes of the cooking staple came to the country from India through three land ports Saturday.
Importers said onions which could make their way into Bangladesh Saturday were purchased prior to India's export ban slapped on September 14. Many had to sell the perishable bulbs in India at a throwaway price as they could not bring the consignments into the country.
Bangladeshi onion importers mainly bring in the item through the southeastern Benapole and Bhomra, and northeastern Hili and Sonamasjid land ports.
After being stranded for nearly a week, Benapole traders said they sold their truckloads mostly in India's Petrapol, said Benapole-based onion importer Sarwar Johnny.
But Sunday saw almost no activity of onion importers at Bhomra, Hili and Sonamasjid land ports.
"Trucks that had permission to cross the border entered Bangladesh Saturday. Only four trucks of onions came in through the port Sunday," said Bhomra land port revenue officer Mohsin Hossain.
The revenue official said the suspension was abrupt as their Indian counterpart did not say anything about tightening the grip.
Hili Importers Association President Harun-ur-Rashid said India on Friday notified them that the country would only release onions purchased on September 13. Therefore, 11 onion-laden trucks crossed the Hili border Saturday.
In another development Sunday, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said the government cancelled its 5% duty on onion imports and it should continue until March 31.
Onions to be sold online at Tk36 per kg
Apart from truck sales, state-owned Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), for the first time, is going to launch onion sales through e-commerce sites at Tk36 per kilogramme.
Initially, customers in Dhaka and Chattogram will be able to buy the key cooking staple from the sites with a delivery charge of Tk30 for per order.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi inaugurated the online sales at his office Sunday. Commerce ministry, TCB and e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB) will jointly oversee the sales titled "Ghore bose swastir peyaj" – roughly translated as "Buy in-demand onions from home."
Under the programme, a customer will be allowed to buy a maximum of three kilogrammes of onions at once. Initially Chaldal, Shwapno, Sindabad, Sabzibazaar and Jachai will sell the bulb online while bdsale and ekShop will join later.
The TCB will provide each of the platforms with 500 kilogrammes of onions per day.
Though the ministry inaugurated the online sales, it did not specify when they would begin. e-CAB said the sales might begin on Sunday night or Monday morning depending on the TCB supply.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said online sales will provide the people with relief who cannot queue up for open truck sales due to prestige issues.
"We have problems, and the solutions too. I want to tell the buyers that there is nothing to panic about. There are plenty of stocks. India has allowed 25,000 tonnes of exports, while another 10,000 tonnes are also expected to qualify for the approval.
"Onions are coming from Myanmar. Onions are being imported from Turkey. Big conglomerates will also import them and supply the TCB," he added.
Prices fall slightly on local market
Onion prices Saturday fell slightly – both on wholesale and retail – on the local market as news broke that India had relaxed its export ban. The market, on Sunday, was similar to the previous day.
Locally grown onions in Dhaka cost Tk80-85 per kilogramme – Tk5 less than the previous day. The wholesale rate of the bulb in Dhaka's Shyambazar was Tk65-70.
The imported ones were Tk67-70 a kilogramme in retail, while the wholesale price hovered around Tk50-55.
In open truck sales, the TCB was selling the cooking essential at Tk30 per kilogramme.