The government has asked importers to import two lakh tonnes of onions to meet the increased demand for the commodity during Ramadan.
Bangladeshi conglomerates City Group, Meghna Group and S Alam Group of Industries, general importers, and the state-owned Trading Corporation of Bangladesh will import onions for the holy month.
Ramadan will begin from April next, just after the peak season for onion harvesting in the country.
However, the commerce ministry's decision to import onion shows the government is less confident about the country's own capacity to grow the bulb and that it is now extra careful to prevent any untoward price hike of onion during the forthcoming Ramadan.
The wholesalers and importers sat with the commerce minister on Thursday at the ministry conference room.
The meeting decided that traders will import 1.5 lakh tonnes of onions while the Trading Corporation will import the rest 50,000 tonnes of the cooking staple.
Golam Mowla, a leader of the wholesalers, told the meeting that it is uncertain when neighbouring India will lift the onion export ban.
"Bangladeshi businessmen are refraining from onion import from other countries out of a fear of huge loss," commented the businessman.
Golam Mowla said, "We will import onion, and there will be no issue even in Ramadan, if the government could guarantee that it will not import onions from India in the next six months. It will be completely disastrous if India lifts the export ban while we import from other countries."
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi was critical of onion price hike after the export ban slapped by India. "Why the prices doubled following the ban? The businessmen should shed the idea to be wealthy overnight."
While referring to pressures from numerous corners over onion price hike, the minister said he has been in a hot seat.
Tofail Ahmed, chairman of the Standing Committee on the Ministry of Commerce, said, "The Trading Corporation will begin the import from tomorrow. City and Meghna groups, who do not sell onions, will also import the cooking ingredient so that we have enough onions in stock by March 31."
Demand for onions usually rises during Ramadan. Bangladeshis consume five lakh tonnes of onion with numerous dishes for Iftar.
The country produced 23.30 lakh tonnes of onion in the 2018-19 fiscal year and imported nearly 11 lakh tonnes. The production target for the 2019-20 fiscal year has been set at 23.83 lakh tonnes while as much as three lakh tonnes of the bulb have been imported so far.
Haji Mohammad Enayetullah, another leader of the wholesalers, told the meeting that the price of dates, another fast moving commodity during Ramadan, may soar this year as the import duty on the item has been more than doubled.
"We used to pay 45 cent to 95 cent as duty on dates import which has been raised to $2.5. This will result in a hike in the prices," he said.
However, a representative of the National Board of Revenue dismissed the claim.
Then, Tofail Ahmed phoned outgoing revenue board chairman Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan and talked about the issue.
Bhuiyan confirmed that no change had been brought on the import duty of dates.
Commerce Secretary Dr Md Jafar Uddin said a total of 58.425 tonnes of dates were imported in the last fiscal year. As much as 4,316 tonnes of dates have been imported so far in the current fiscal year.
The country has an annual demand for around 25,000 tonnes of dates, the bulk of which is in the month of Ramadan.
In the meantime, a commerce ministry estimation shows that prices of soybean oil, sugar, lentils and spices have been soaring for the last one month. The meeting did not address the topic. It only instructed the businessmen to boost up the supply.