Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed yesterday asked Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) to release imported basic commodities, especially onion, within 24 hours to control a price spiral in local markets.
Onion prices skyrocketed in the last few days due to heavy rainfall and low supply from India, the major source of the vegetable.
Retail prices hovered between Tk 40-50 a kilogramme, up from Tk 28-35 a week ago.
The minister sat with traders, importers, retailers and suppliers of basic commodities, at his secretariat office in Dhaka yesterday.
The minister called M Khaled Iqbal, CPA chairman, over cellphone from the meeting and urged quick release of onion.
Businessmen said congestion in the Chittagong port was one of the main reasons for the price hike as many onion laden ships had to wait for a long time to offload their cargo.
Onion supply in local markets cannot be increased due to long delivery time of products from the Chittagong port, as many businessmen imported onion from Egypt due to its shortage in India.
The minister even directed the businessmen to contact the port chairman if their goods were not released within 24 hours or the highest in two days.
“You take my visiting cards and meet the port chairman and show it to him if your goods are not released within 24 hours," he said.
Ahmed said onion prices increased despite there being an adequate supply.
If there is a crisis, then where are the businessmen getting it from when higher prices are offered, the minister asked the businessmen.
The annual demand for onion is around 22 lakh tonnes. Of it, 18 lakh tonnes is locally produced while the remaining is imported, mainly from India.
“I am hopeful that the prices of onion will come down within four or five days as the supply is increasing," the minister said. A section of traders take advantage of situations and make a hefty profit when prices go up, he said.
Bangladesh imported 11.05 lakh tonnes of onion in the July-April period of the last fiscal year, up from 5.78 lakh tonnes in the previous year, according to commerce ministry data.
Onion production target was fixed at 21.37 lakh tonnes in 2016-17 while its production in 2015-16 reached 21.30 lakh tonnes, according to the data. Gulam Moula, general secretary of Moulvibazar Babosayee Samity, the traders' association in Moulvibazar, said retailers charge abnormal prices although they purchase it at lower prices from the wholesale markets.
An importer in Shyambazar, Zahir Uddin Ahmed, said he could not release goods from the Chittagong port due to congestion created from the damage of two gantry cranes.
Two out of four gantry cranes are now out of order, for which businessmen cannot supply goods to maintain stability in the supply and demand in markets.
If the port can deliver onions properly, prices will come down very soon in local markets. "We are losing our money every day due to congestion in the port," said Hafizur Rahman, another onion importer at Shyambazar.
Mostafa Kamal, chairman of Meghna Group, said prices of edible oil and sugar in the local markets were stable as the supply was adequate.