Onions retail at four times the import price

Unscrupulous traders cash in on India’s export ban, supply crunch

The Khulna-based Sundarban Enterprise received a consignment of 157 tonnes of onion at Bhomra land port on 14 September. It came from AA Enterprise of India. The import price is Tk 25.70 per kg, according to customs documents.

The consignment was part of 45,695 tonnes of onion worth Tk 78.24 crore that were imported from the neighbouring country through Hili, Sona Masjid, Bhomra and Benapole in the first 14 days of September. The average price is Tk 17.16.

The onion came in 601 consignments by around 100 importers. In August, 34,155 tonnes of onion worth Tk 47.28 crore were imported from India through the four land ports. Average import price stood at Tk 13.87.

But the root vegetable was retailed at Tk 90 to Tk 100 per kg in the kitchen markets in Chattogram yesterday, doubling from Tk 50 three days earlier.

This shows how some unscrupulous traders have jacked up the prices of the essential cooking ingredient, cashing in on the supply crunch in the domestic market, according to market observers.

The crisis stemmed from the Indian ban on onion exports from September 14 and a dwindling stock of locally-grown onions.

During a visit to Khatunganj, the largest wholesale market in the country, yesterday, it was found that most of wholesalers in the port city are not selling the item in hopes that the price would go up further.

The price of onion has increased from Tk 35-40 to Tk 80-90 per kg in three days at the Khatunganj wholesale market.

Mintu Sawdagar, a wholesaler in Khatunganj, said wholesalers sell onions at the price fixed by importers and they get 2 to 3 per cent in commission.

According to Asaduzzaman, an importer and proprietor of Shah Amanat Traders, if there is a crisis in the market, then the import price does not become a big deal.

"The demand suddenly increased due to the fear of a price hike," he said, adding that the same happens when supply exceeds demand when items have to be sold at a much lower rate than they are imported at.

Around 15-20 per cent of total onion gets rotten on its way to the local market, he said.

Many traders have opened letters of credit to import onion from China, Egypt, Pakistan, the Netherlands and Myanmar in the last few days. The price would stabilise after two to three weeks when the new consignments arrive, according to importers.

They say onion price has risen by $100-120 per tonne to $460 to $480 in the international market after India banned exports.

The import price of the upcoming consignments would be Tk 41 to Tk 44 per kg. The transport cost would add another Tk 3 to Tk 7 per kg before they become available in the wholesale market, they said.

Twenty-five traders have submitted documents to import 58,000 tonnes of onion from China, Egypt, Pakistan, the Netherlands, Myanmar, Turkey, Thailand and New Zealand, according to data from the Plant Quarantine Centre at the Chattogram Port.

The onion will be arriving in the port by the beginning of October.

India on Monday prohibited exports of onion as prices trebled in a month after excessive rainfall hit crops in southern states.

Wholesale prices in India's largest onion trading hub, Lasalgaon in the western state of Maharashtra, have nearly trebled in a month to $408.52 per tonne, Reuters reported.

Bangladesh's annual onion production capacity has been steady at 17-18 lakh tonnes for the last three years but a further 11 lakh tonnes had to be imported each year during that time as well to meet the supply deficit, according to data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

Imports declined 33 per cent year-on-year to 8 lakh tonnes in the first nine months of the ongoing fiscal year, the BBS data showed. India is the biggest supplier of onions to Bangladesh.

In September last year, India also imposed a ban on the export of onions, prompting the price of the kitchen staple to reach to as high as Tk 250 per kg in Bangladesh.  


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