Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi yesterday said the first air cargo carrying onions from Egypt would land in Dhaka at midnight today.
He said the chartered flight was supposed to land at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport yesterday, but it was delayed due to a technical problem and long transit in Saudi Arabia.
“I am deeply troubled by the onion prices,” said Munshi, who returned from Australia yesterday, two days ahead of schedule. He had gone to the country to attend an investment dialogue.
Speaking at a press conference at his secretariat office in the capital, Munshi said the commerce ministry had booked a number of cargo flights of different airlines to import 50,000 tonnes of onion. The move is aimed at stabilising the skyrocketing prices of the bulb.
The flights would arrive until November 25 and nearly 500 trucks of the state-owned Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) would sell the onions across the country, he said.
He did not specifically say how many onions would arrive in the first consignment.
Munshi, however, said bulk import of onion was not necessary as the prices had already started declining due to the arrival of newly-harvested onions in local markets.
He said onions were sold between Tk 110 and Tk 120 per kg at wholesale markets in different districts, including Dhaka, after the newly-harvested ones arrived.
Similarly, onion prices declined in the retail markets. Per kg of the bulb was selling between Tk 130 and Tk 170. A few days ago, it was between Tk 230 and Tk 250.
The minister is hopeful that the prices would fall further after the start of the sale of the imported onions.
Asked, Munshi blamed the Indian ban on onion export, a shortfall in supply, and a section of unscrupulous traders’ tendency to earn extra profit, for the “sudden and abnormal” price hike.
“In mid-September, we thought the Indian ban was temporary and that’s why we delayed importing onions. We faced the shortage as India had prolonged the ban,” he said.
Onion prices also soared in India and Myanmar. As a result, Bangladesh is importing onions from Egypt and Turkey, he said.
Usually, Bangladesh imports eight lakh tonnes of onion every year against the annual demand of 24 lakh tonnes. Majority of the demand is met through local production and the remaining is met through imports, mainly from India. But this year, it was not possible due to the Indian ban, he said.
Initially, a few hundred tonnes of onions came from Myanmar through the Teknaf land port, but lately the prices have gone up, which is why businessmen have cut short imports from the country, said ministry sources.
Market monitoring teams from the ministry and other divisions, and agencies of the government have recently punished 2,500 traders for their alleged involvement in manipulation of onion prices.
Every day, the teams have been imposing fines and handing down different jail terms to the offenders.
Regarding the sudden hike in salt prices, the minister said it was based on a rumour as the country had adequate supply of salt.
The monthly demand for salt is 1 lakh tonnes, but the country has a stock of 6.5 lakh tonnes, he said.
TCB STARTS ONION SALE IN CTG
The TCB yesterday began sale of onions in the port city amid the high prices of the bulb.
The onions were sold in six points including near Kotwali, Pahartali, Bandar, Halishahar and Bayezid police stations.
Jamal Uddin Ahmed, regional head of TCB Chittagong, said they were selling each kg for Tk 45. The onions were imported from Myanmar.