- FBCCI says some unscrupulous traders behind spiralling commodity prices
- Businessmen argue imports and local manufacturing have become costlier
- Finger also pointed at the lax market monitoring, other trade issues
- Monitoring authorities urged to bring the market syndicates to book
President of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI) Md Jashim Uddin has lashed out at unscrupulous traders over the spiralling prices of essential items including staple rice.
"How does a vegetable end up at Tk20-Tk25 in retail in Dhaka's Gulshan kitchen market while the farmers sell it at only Tk5 at the field level? Why will the price gap be that much?" he questioned businessmen at a meeting in Dhaka Sunday.
"Some traders are now raking in Tk5-Tk6 by selling per kg of rice while they used to make Tk2-Tk1 profit. They are cashing in on the market as they wish. This cannot continue. They [traders] must be singled out," Jashim Uddin told the meeting on the current stock of essentials, their import outlook, supplies and the market rates.
In the face of the accusations, importers, large-scale businessmen, wholesalers and trade leaders point the finger at a supply crunch, hikes in the international market and spiked manufacturing costs locally.
But citing the recent fall of the onion prices following the revenue board's measures, the FBCCI president refuted the claims.
"How did the onion price fall by Tk15 per kg just a day after lifting the import duty on the kitchen ingredient? An import under the new measure was supposed to take at least 4-5 days. How did the market calm down instantly?"
The FBCCI chief argued that onion rates could be slashed earlier even without the revenue board's intervention. "There must be a problem here," he noted.
Onions were selling at Tk40-Tk45 per kg two weeks ago. On speculation that India may slap an export ban on the cooking ingredient, its prices started to edge up in the country and reached Tk80 per kg. Subsequently, the revenue board intervened in the market by lifting the onion import duty.
Referring to the old Dhaka onion importers, the FBCCI president said, "Some 80-100 people do the onion business [import] since the newcomers cannot last in the market. It also happened during the onion crisis last year. Because you people know the pros and cons, and the loopholes of the market."
At the meeting, onion importers and wholesalers, however, shifted the blame to farmers, saying, "Onion growers have hoarded the cooking essential to make a quick buck."
"Since the farmers do not have any storage arrangement, they are not supposed to have onions piled up in stocks. Rather it is you who have hoarded it," Jashim Uddin hit back.
At one point of the discussion, two Shyambazar onion wholesalers were asked why the same onions were at two different rates at their warehouses. Shamsul Alam Baten, one of the traders, initially refused the overcharging allegation.
He could not give any answer as the FBCCI market monitoring team detailed the allegation further.
Helal Uddin, president of the Bangladesh Shop Owners Association, faced fierce criticism as he tried to argue in favour of commodity price hikes.
In a separate development on Sunday, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said the difference between wholesale and retail onion rates should not be more than Tk15 per kg.
"I have tasked the commerce secretary to look into overcharging. Besides, the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection is monitoring the market. We are also selling onions to the low-income people at subsidised rates through the TCB [Trading Corporation of Bangladesh] open market sale," the minister told a programme of Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the capital.
He said Bangladesh has a 20% gap between onion production and demand. Onion prices in the Indian market have effects on the Bangladeshi market since Dhaka largely depends on New Delhi for its onion import.
Tipu Munshi said it takes more time to bring in onions from India's alternatives such as Myanmar or Turkey.
'How many syndicates busted so far'
Referring to a recent commerce ministry meeting, the FBCCI president said intelligence officials at the talk urged them to get rid of profiteering and greed.
"But preaching to businessmen is not their job. Rather they are supposed to monitor if the market is being manipulated," he said.
"They frequently talk about market syndicates. I want to ask them how many syndicates they have busted so far," he added.
At the meeting, the FBCCI president advocated for introducing agri-calendar, slapping seasonal import ban on agro-items to ensure fair prices to farmers and updating the demand and supply data of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
He also assured the businessmen of identifying their trade issues and submitting recommendations to the government.
Among others, business leaders Hazi Md Mazed, Nizam Uddin and FBCCI Vice-President Mostafa Azad Chowdhury Babu also joined the discussion at the programme.