As part of their new strategy to make a fast buck before the market comes under surveillance, profit-mongering importers and traders in Khatunganj of the port city have already hiked the prices of daily essentials long before Ramadan.
Every year at the beginning of the fasting month, the prices of most daily necessities go up sharply and the administration concerned ramps up market supervision activities to rein in the prices.
The prices of most consumer goods that see high demand in Ramadan are now on the rise in Khatunganj, the country's largest wholesale market for consumer goods.
Among the essential commodities, prices of edible oil, sugar and pulses like gram, pea, lentil and khesari have become dear.
In the wholesale market, per maund (37.32kg) Australian gram is being sold at between Tk2,200-Tk2,550 while it was selling at less than Tk2,200 last month.
As a result, the price of per maund gram has gone up by Tk350 a month. Myanmar's gram has already entered the market which sells at Tk2,400 per maund.
At normal times, the price of peas ranges from Tk27 to Tk30 a kilogramme while per maund from Tk1,000 to Tk1,100, but in the last one month, its price has gone through the roof which is now selling at between Tk38 and Tk39 while per maund price is Tk1400-Tk1450.
Over the past one month, the price of imported lentils has gone up by about Tk400. At present, lentils from Canada and Australia (coarse varieties) are being sold in the market at a price of Tk2,425 (Tk65 per kg) which was sold just below Tk2,050 (Tk55 per kg) a month ago.
The country's demand for khesari pulses is met by full domestic production, but even if it is not imported, the price of khesari has increased abnormally in line with other imported products.
Just a month ago, per maund Khesari was sold at below Tk2,050 (Tk55 a kg) which is now being sold at Tk2,800 (Tk75 per kg), an increase of about Tk750 a month.
Meanwhile, the sugar market, another daily essential, has been volatile for a long time. In the last one-and-a-half months, the standard sugar of various brands had been selling at less than Tk2,100. Currently, it has increased by more than Tk250 and been selling at Tk2,350-Tk2,360.
Although on an upward trajectory for a long time, the market for all kinds of edible oil has become more volatile in the run up to Ramadan. Meanwhile, the price of per maund Palm oil (40.90 litres) has risen to Tk3,850-Tk3,900 which was sold at below Tk3,400 per maund a month ago.
Similarly, Palm super oil is being sold at Tk4,200 per maund at present which was also sold at below Tk3,800 last month.
Moreover, soybean oil was sold at Tk4,100 last month which now sells at Tk4,500. According to the market price, the price of edible oil has gone up by Tk300-Tk400 in the last one month.
On condition of anonymity, several wholesalers in Khatunganj said earlier, the sale of consumer goods used to start before Shab-e-Barat and if the price of any essential products went up abnormally, the authorities concerned made attempts to control the market, but this time, importers and wholesalers have started selling goods about two months before Ramadan to avoid the administration's surveillance.
As a result, prices of most consumer goods needed for Ramadan have risen over the past one month and are still rising, some traders said, adding that raising the prices of consumer goods two months before Ramadan was a ploy of profit-mongering importers and wholesalers.
A wholesale consumer Main Uddin, also director of the food processing company -- Star Line Group -- said the wholesale prices in Khatunganj have gone up in the last one month.
Referring to the prices of some products, he said, "Last month we bought wholesale sugar at Tk58 per kg, peas at Tk30-Tk32 and palm oil at Tk92 per litre.
"But this week I had to buy the same sugar at Tk65, peas at Tk38-Tk39 and palm oil at Tk106-Tk108."
Before Ramadan approaches, the country's big importers and wholesalers, including those in Khatunganj, make extra profits by raising the prices of essential commodities, alleged the trader.
Paritosh Dey, secretary to the Chattogram Pulses Mill Owners Association, said the pandemic has disrupted the production of pulses.
Besides, since the beginning of corona, the import-export chain had broken down and the prices of most products in the market have been going up for almost a year, he said, adding that in the last one month, the prices of essentials have started rising again due to hike in booking prices in the international market.
However, with the approach of Ramadan, if imports and demand increase, the prices of goods will come down a bit, said the business leader.
Mahbubul Alam, president of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said there is a tendency among traders to increase the prices of daily necessities before Ramadan every year. However, the prices of consumer goods in the international market are a bit higher than they were before.
"We are still calling on importers and traders to sell products in line with the cost and profit of the product and not to destabilise the market through an abnormal price hike," he added.
According to Chattogram Customs, 6,52,021 tonnes of palm oil were imported through the port in the first eight months of the current financial year. During the same period a year ago, the import of palm oil was 9,91,452 tonnes.
Till February of the last financial year, the import of crude soybean oil was 3.95 lakh tonnes while 4,33,491 tonnes have been imported at the same time in the current fiscal year.
In the first eight months of the last financial year, the import of gram and peas was 2,00,826 tons. At the same time of this fiscal, 1,71,881 tons have been imported.
Similarly, 2,43,489 tons of lentils have been imported in the first eight months of this financial year while the import was only 2,54,242 tons during the same period a year ago.
In the first eight months of the last fiscal year, sugar imports were 67,696 tons while it was 63,057 tons at the same period of this fiscal.
According to importers, the international market price of Australian gram was Tk50-Tk52 a kg, Australian and Canadian lentils were Tk49-Tk50 per kg and peas were Tk40 a kg in last December.
At present, the same quality gram is being booked at Tk58-Tk62 a kg, lentil at Tk59-Tk61 a kg and peas at Tk48 a kg.
However, from last December to February, per kg sugar was sold in the international market at $0.4 to a maximum of Tk35.
In other words, although there has been no change in the price of sugar in the international market in the last three months, the price of the product has increased by Tk7 per kg in the domestic market in the last one month.