Process to import onion for Ramadan yet to kick-off

Shafiqul Islam
Published : 16:05, Jan 18, 2020 | Updated : 17:00, Jan 18, 2020

People work at an onion wholesale market in the Kawran Bazar in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 24, 2019. REUTERS/File PhotoThe process to import onion to keep prices stable during the Ramadan, when the essential kitchen item's demand soars, is yet to kick-off three weeks after it was decided in a high-level meeting of government officials, including ministers and representatives from business groups involved in trading of essential commodities.
During the meeting, held on Jan 2, three business groups as well as the government's trading arm were urged to initiate the process to ship in onions by late February or early March as the month of Ramadan starts in the third week of April.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said at the time that they "don't want to take any risks".
"Onion prices shot up by two to three times in the country within 12 hours after India banned import on Sept 29. I will not take any risks over onion. Whatever the local production stands at, imports will continue," he said.
At that meeting, former commerce minister Tofail Ahmed called three large business groups and the state-owned Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) to import 200,000 tonne onion by early March.
"It takes at least 45 days to ship in onions and that's why we urged the TCB and business groups to start the process early," the veteran leader of the ruling Awami League said at that time.
But three weeks into the meeting, there's no significant progress.
City Group says its consignment is expected in mid-March.
"We had opened the LC [letter of credit] to buy another 50,000 tonne from Egypt and Turkey, the day after the decision [taken at the Jan 2 meeting]. We expect it by mid-March," its General Manager Biswajit Saha said before adding they are receiving consignments in meantime.
Meghna Group said it was still in the process of checking global prices.
"We will open an LC as soon as we lock in the lowest price. We hope to ship in it before the Ramadan," its Deputy General Manager Monowar Hossain told Bangla Tribune.
S Alam Group, however, seems to be sceptical as the local producers has already started harvesting.
"We are evaluating the supply and demand scenario as the entire local produce will be harvested by March. Our next step depends on whether there would be any demand," the group's General Manager Salaudin Ahmed told Bangla Tribune.
A spokesperson for the chief of state-owned TCB cited 'bureaucratic reasons' for not starting the process.
"We can't just implement a decision on a whim. A state-owned entity has to operate in line with regulations, unlike the private sector. But we are considering it," said Humayun Kabir, the personal secretary to TCB Chairman Hasan Jahangir.