Many countries, including Bangladesh, could not import goods from China over the last one month because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The virus has forced most countries to tighten international trade as it has already spread to around 168 countries, impacting the market of import-dependent essential consumer products in Bangladesh.
According to commerce ministry sources, the main exporting countries of oil, sugar, lentil, chickpea, ginger, and garlic have all been affected by the virus. Even the alternative exporting nations of these products have been hit by Covid-19.
As Ramadan draws near, regulatory organisations are concerned that the market of these essential products could soon be destabilised.
Moreover, the prices of these products have already soared in the country following spells of panic buying in recent days.
In a report to the commerce ministry on the import of eight essentials, the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission (BTTC) tried to find out alternative export sources for these products to reign in the price hike during Ramadan.
According to the report, the two main exporters of soybean oil and palm oil are Argentina and Indonesia – both with Covid-19 infections among their populace.
Bangladesh imported 91 percent soybean oil from Argentina from July-December of 2019. The country imported 93 percent palm oil from Indonesia during the same period.
Currently, Indonesia is badly affected by coronavirus with 790 cases and 58 deaths. In Argentina, 502 people were infected with eight deaths.
The coronavirus outbreak can worsen the trade from these two countries. As a result, the BTTC is considering Brazil, US, Malaysia, Paraguay and the Netherlands as the alternative sources for soybean oil. But these countries are also fighting with coronavirus, said the report.
Last year, Bangladesh produced only 62,000 tonnes of sugar against the annual demand of 18 lakh tonnes. The remaining amount was imported. In the last six months, Bangladesh imported 89 percent of its sugar from Brazil and 9 percent from India.
The BTTC is searching for alternative sugar sources in case import from these two countries gets disrupted. The report mentioned Myanmar, Thailand, France, Mexico and the Netherlands as alternative sources of sugar.
"So far, there have been no problems concerning import. The supply chain is stable. But the coronavirus outbreak can disrupt it at any moment," said Asif Iqbal, deputy managing director of Meghna Group – a conglomerate that sells various essentials in Bangladesh.
Last year, 71 percent of the annually demanded lentil were imported from Australia. But the country's production has decreased following the recent wildfire. The coronavirus also poses a threat to the nation, which now has around 2,800 cases.
The BTTC report said Canada, Egypt, Turkey and Russia could be alternative sources for lentil. But these countries are also grappling with the virus.
Prices of ginger and garlic increased in Bangladesh as a result of an export halt from China for around a month. Though export resumed, the prices of these products have been increasing as a result of panic buying.
The BTTC report also mentioned alternative countries to import dates, chickpeas and onions.
Importers said the market could face problems for all consumer products excluding onions since it is peak onion season in Bangladesh now.
Shafi Mahmud, president of the Bangladesh Lentil Businessmen Association, told The Business Standard, "We are not taking any risks by importing right now. The Australians have also curbed their export.
"The amount that has been imported so far is enough to meet the market demand until Ramadan. But if people stock these products out of fear, it will create a problem," he added.
Golam Rahman, president of the Consumer Association of Bangladesh, said essentials are generally imported around a month and a half before Ramadan.
So there should not be any problems. But panic buying may affect the Ramadan market, he added.
"But if the government guides the businessmen accordingly in maintaining the supply chain, it can overcome the problem."