To keep the supply chain of daily necessities operational, the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission (BTTC) has suggested that local markets at upazila and district levels be partially opened – as well as product packaging and labelling factories.
If farmers cannot transport their products and imported goods are stuck at ports due to the lockdown, it will be difficult to control the price hikes of daily necessities, the commission observed.
Under the prevailing circumstances, the commission suggested that farmers be allowed to sell their products at local markets, and there must be coordination between local markets and wholesale markets in the cities.
The commission also asked that imported products be rapidly offloaded, then transported across the country by Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) trucks and covered vans.
Moreover, many consignments are not offloaded at the Chattogram port as permission is required from institutes such as the BSTI, Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, and Agriculture Extension Department. These institutes should continue working to quickly unload the products, the commission suggested.
The BTTC, on Saturday, sent a letter to the industries ministry mentioning the local price, supply and market condition of daily necessities, the industries ministry said.
"We have already issued directives to the deputy commissioners so that farmers can sell their products at district and upazila level markets, and products can be transported to wholesale markets in the cities," said Md Nasiruzzaman, the agriculture ministry secretary.
Within one month, the price of red lentil increased by 13-28 percent, onion by 29 percent, local garlic by 64 percent, and ginger by 90-95 percent, according to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh.
On Sunday, at different markets in Dhaka, red lentil sold for Tk85-140, onion for Tk50-60, garlic for Tk110-160, and ginger for Tk220-350 per kilogramme. Additionally, chickpea flour – an essential item for iftar – sold for Tk75-80, a hike of 10 percent.
The tariff commission has said the price is increasing abnormally and is the result of a supply disruption caused by a shortage of transportation and workers due to the lockdown. It also said the authorities concerned should monitor retail and wholesale markets so that unscrupulous businessmen cannot hike the prices.
As per the tariff commission, more letters of credit, for all products except gram and onion, were settled in January-March in 2020 than the same time in 2019. Around 58,000 tonnes of onion were imported in 15 days after India withdrew the embargo on March 15 – this will increase in April.
Except for chickpea flour and onion, a large number of other varieties of lentils were imported.
According to Bangladesh Bank, from January to March this year, imports of garlic increased to 9,434 tonnes whereas the export of ginger increased to 3,442 tonnes and dates to 1,309 tonnes.
During this time the import of refined sugar, soybean oil, palm oil, onion, and chickpea flour decreased; however, the demand for daily necessities has diminished to very little as well due to the lockdown. So, comparatively fewer imports will not have any impact on the demand.
Deputy managing director of Meghna group Asif Iqbal told The Business Standard, "There is a shortage of workers required for unloading the products at the ports. However, labelling is the main problem at present. Most of the label vendors we used to work with have shut their business and we cannot collect labels according to our needs. We have to change the vendors frequently. If this continues, we will face a problem in the supply of goods."
Regarding the price hike of ginger, Hafizur Rahman, an importer in Shyambazar, said, "No land port is operating at present. A huge amount of ginger and garlic are stuck at the Chattogram port. The delay in offloading those products has caused the price hike. Once those are unloaded, the price will drop."
Shafique Mahmud, secretary of Lentil Traders Association, said, "There is no shortage of lentils. However, no one is importing lentils now. Lentils that were imported earlier are being sold at a higher price."
The industries ministry said there would be no shortage of daily necessities because of the novel coronavirus. Quoting the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, the ministry said the supply and price of daily necessities were stable across the world. No Covid-19 affected country has shut down their ports and international trade is ongoing.
Covid-19 has not yet become endemic in the countries from where Bangladesh imports the majority of its daily necessities. Those countries have not yet put an embargo on exports.