Profiteers feast on sugar
Taking advantage of increased demand for sugar during Ramadan, many of the traders are making extra profits from the sweetener -- a practice that prompted strong warnings from Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed.
In the city markets, sugar is now sold for Tk 65 a kilogramme, around Tk 10 higher than what the price should be, according to a recent report of the commerce ministry.
Refiners are selling sugar for Tk 48-Tk 50 a kg at mill gates. Wholesalers should sell it for Tk 52 and retailers for Tk 55, Tofail said at a meeting with traders of basic commodities at his secretariat office yesterday.
“But the retailers are making extra profits from sugar as the demand for the item has gone up in Ramadan,” he said.
Importers, wholesalers, retailers, government high-ups and brokers attended the meeting.
The daily demand for sugar in the country was 5,000 tonnes, and the refiners were supplying 7,000-8,000 tonnes a day, said Fazlur Rahman, chairman of City Group of Industries, which has the biggest sugar refinery in the country.
“We don't see any shortfall in the supply of sugar by the refiners,” he said.
Talking to this correspondent, City Group General Manager Bishwajit Saha said they had to suspend production at their refinery for a couple of days at the end of last month because of problems in gas supply to the refinery.
The Group is now delivering 2,800-3,000 tonnes of sugar a day with the sweetener priced at Tk 48 a kg, he said.
Bishwajit blamed the price spiral on the imposition of import duty on sugar. He, however, saw no reason for selling the item at Tk 65 a kg at the retail level.
Prices would come down if the commerce ministry strengthens its market monitoring, he added.
On Wednesday, a mobile court in Chittagong fined a wholesaler, Mir Ahmed Sawdagar Traders, Tk 20 lakh for selling the sweetener at Tk 58.02 a kg against the purchase price of Tk 46.08.
The country's estimated annual demand for sugar is 15 lakh tonnes.
In July-April of the outgoing fiscal year, 12.74 lakh tonnes of raw and refined sugar were imported. The quantity was 17.94 lakh tonnes in 2014-15.
Commerce ministry officials said the demand for sugar rises to three lakh tonnes in Ramadan alone for its increased use in preparing sweet items.
Citing import data of sugar and some other commodities, the ministry said in a report last month that the supply of sugar was good enough to meet the estimated demand during Ramadan.
Abul Hashem, vice president of Bangladesh Sugar Merchants Association, claimed, “Supply of sugar is yet to be smooth from millers. Prices will go up unless the supply chain is smooth.”
Sugar was traded for Tk 2,100 a maund (37.32 kg) or Tk 56.27 a kg at mill gates, he said on Wednesday.
Asked about the City Group's claim that it delivers the item for Tk 48 a kg, Hashem said the traders' trucks had to wait in queues for days to get the item from the refinery. And their overall purchase costs rise due to the delay.
Yesterday, the commerce minister warned that if any trader sells the basic commodities at prices higher than normal, he would face a similar fate like that of Mir Ahmed Sawdagar Traders in Chittagong.
The minister assigned the director general of the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection to monitor sugar prices so that the unscrupulous traders cannot make extra profits.
He also said the Tariff Commission would soon sit with importers, wholesalers and retailers.
Apart from sugar, three other items widely consumed in Ramadan -- chickpeas, dates and pulses -- also saw their prices go up in local markets, said the minister.
“I don't see any reason behind the price hike of these items, as their supply is adequate,” he said.
Chickpeas are sold for Tk 85-Tk 100 a kg, which should be Tk 60-Tk 65.
“I hope the prices of the items would fall very soon,” he added.