Onion added to the list of thorny issues | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 18, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:32 AM, September 18, 2020

Onion added to the list of thorny issues

Analysts say on Dhaka-Delhi ties

The recent market disruption in Bangladesh due to India's ban on onion exports could potentially cause a glitch in an Indo-Bangla relationship which is otherwise at its friendliest, analysts said.

The latest export ban on onions by India, without any prior notice, and the subsequent skyrocketing price of the kitchen staple in Bangladesh's markets is not the first such instance.

In late September last year, a similar ban was imposed by India, which had a rapid ripple effect. Onion prices soared close to Tk 300 per kg from Tk 40, leaving people all at sea. They even had to cut back on consumption.

Bangladesh had to frantically rush to import onions from other countries, including Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan and China. It was also an embarrassment for the government and its friendly bond with India -- something that was reflected during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to Delhi in early October last year.

While addressing an event in Delhi, where Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal was present, the PM said she wished India had informed Bangladesh before the sudden halt in export of onions.

Speaking in Hindi, Hasina had said, "I had to tell my cook I have no other option but to have my food without onions. I would request India to please inform us beforehand while taking such an action. After all, we are neighbours."

Dhaka had learnt a lesson. During a commerce secretary-level meeting on January 15-16 this year, the Bangladesh side requested their Indian counterparts to consider not imposing export restrictions on essential food items required by Bangladesh. In case of any event that necessitated such restrictions, Bangladesh requested India to inform it ahead of time.

In a letter to the Indian High Commission in Bangladesh on Tuesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said India's sudden ban on onion exports is a matter of deep concern and has undermined the earlier discussions regarding restrictions over essential food items.

Analysts said the World Trade Organization does not encourage export-import bans but a country can take its decision based on its domestic demand and supply.

"However, if there is any understanding with a friendly country that one country will inform well ahead of time before any such decision that has implications on the friendly nation's market, it must be complied," said Prof Lailafur Yasmin of the Department of International Relations, Dhaka University.

"If that is not complied, one can easily question the level of friendship," she told this correspondent yesterday.

She said India is trying to deepen its relationships with neighbours and considers Bangladesh to be the first among them, but this policy is not reflected in some of the country's activities.

"This is not rationally driven. It reflects India's inconsistencies in terms of how it is dealing with Bangladesh," Prof Lailafur said, adding that the sentiment holds true especially at a time when Bangladesh is providing a host of vital facilities to India, including transit through Bangladesh to Northeast India and ensuring stability in India's Northeast by not sheltering insurgents from the Seven Sisters.

In contrast, the issues of Teesta treaty, which has not been signed yet due to India's domestic issues, and the rising trend of border killings remain thorny issues, she said.

Analysts said India and Bangladesh solved major issues like land and maritime boundary disputes and they can surely solve all other issues if both sides are sincere and respectful with each other.

Centre for Policy Dialogue Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun said there would be no problem at all if India informed Bangladesh well in advance of such an export ban.

However, she said, as Bangladesh knows well that it has some shortage of onions, it needs to diversify the sources of onion import instead of depending mostly on India. Bangladesh has an annual shortage of some six lakh tonnes of onions and imports about 90 percent of it from India.

"Also, we don't have any acute shortage of onions this time to justify the price soaring so high. This has happened mainly because of dishonest traders," Fahmida Khatun said.

This means that the government needs to augment its market monitoring, she said.

INDIA FOREIGN MINISTRY 'REPENTANT'

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen yesterday said Indian Ministry of External Affairs is very "repentant" for not informing Bangladesh beforehand while imposing a ban on the onion export, reports UNB.

"I heard that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs is very repentant. Because they didn't know about the sudden ban," he told reporters at his office soon after his return from Turkey.

Bangladesh expects a positive outcome regarding its request to withdraw the export ban on onions soon, he said. 

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