Both Chinese garlic and ginger prices have kept surging in the last ten days in Chattogram's Khatunganj — the country's largest wholesale market for commodities and essentials.
Garlic prices rose by Tk40-Tk50, while ginger prices were up by Tk20 to Tk30 per kilogram in the wholesale market.
Khatunganj traders said that shipment between China and Bangladesh has remained suspended owing to the coronavirus outbreak. Importers were therefore unable to open new Letters of Credit (LCs), and consignments under previous LCs were not arriving in time as well.
"Concerns increasingly grow among businessmen over imports from China," said Mohammad Idris, general secretary of Khatunganj Traders Welfare Association.
Chinese garlic was selling at Tk180 to Tk190 in Khatunganj on Thursday, which was Tk130-Tk140 even ten days ago. Meanwhile, ginger was priced at Tk100 to Tk110 per kg, which previously sold at Tk80 to Tk90.
Importers said demand for Chinese garlic and ginger is high as their quality and size are good. Most importers prefer China where the import of the two cooking ingredients is concerned.
Businessmen said China went into New Lunar Year vacations on January 24, postponing their respective businesses. The holidays were later extended to February 17, suspending all business activities due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Bangladeshi importers are thus unable to place new orders to China.
Importers in Bangladesh usually store extra garlic and ginger every year keeping the Chinese New Year celebrations in mind. They did the same this year.
A number of wholesalers, preferring anonymity, have alleged that many importers are manipulating prices by exploiting the adverse effects of coronavirus on business.
"The virus outbreak is yet to affect shipments," said Ahsanul Huq Chowdhury, chairman of the Bangladesh Shipping Agents' Association.
"Ships now coming from China obtained their clearances before January 20. After leaving the country, they anchored at other ports, which is why the effect of the virus outbreak is still not significant in our shipping business," he explained.
The general people, meanwhile, are clearly annoyed over the price hike.
"Onion prices skyrocketed as India slapped an export ban on the cooking ingredient. Now traders have hiked garlic and ginger prices on the excuse of the coronavirus outbreak. They are reaping profits and we are being victimized in every single case," Mohammad Mijan, an employee, told this correspondent.
According to the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission, people consume 6 lakh tonnes of garlic per year, while the country produced net 5.22 lakh tonnes of the cooking ingredient in the 2018-19 fiscal year. The remaining 13 to 20 percent demand for garlic was met by imports in that year.
Annual demand for ginger is nearly 3 lakh tonnes while the country produced net 1.73 lakh tonnes of ginger in the 2018-19 FY. Imports met the demand for the remaining 42 to 45 percent.
The National Board of Revenue notes that nearly 100 percent of imported garlic comes by ships from China, which accounts for 60 percent of the ginger import by Bangladesh.
"It is still possible to import cooking ingredients from other countries. Garlic price has crossed Tk200 per kg overnight. Businessmen are just hiking the prices to make quick bucks," said SM Najer Hossain, central committee vice-president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB).
He said the price hike will cause sufferings for low income people. He requested the government to intervene in the market immediately and take effective measures such as deploying mobile courts in the markets on a regular basis.
Govt seeks China alternative to garlic import
Garlic is one of the basic everyday commodities imported from China.
Given the crisis in relation to China, Bangladesh is looking for an alternative source for imports of garlic to prevent the market from being affected by the coronavirus factor, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said today.
He was speaking as the chief guest at the 7th International Fire, Safety & Security Expo 2020 at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre (BICC) in Dhaka.