The essential commodity market continues to be somewhat unstable though the prices of onion have lately come down, to some extent, at the retail level. The import of substantial quantity coupled with the arrival of early variety of onion has brought down its prices that had gone through the roof during the past two and a half months. Now it seems to be edible oil's turn. The prices of the widely consumed soybean oil have gone up between 6.0 and 12 per cent during the last couple of days. The same is true to the palm oil price. The latest increase was preceded by a marginal hike in November last.
Major edible oil refiners and marketing companies have hiked the prices of both palm and soybean oils on the plea of an uptrend in the prices of the items in the international market. There is no denying that the international edible oil prices have recorded some rise during the past few months. But the hike has been negligible -- only 2.3 per cent for palm crude and 0.53 per cent for degummed soybean oil. Interestingly, if the international prices of soybean for the past one year were taken into consideration, the current price level, in fact, does represent a 0.19 per cent decline.
However, it is true the depreciation of taka against the greenback has raised the cost of imports, to some extent. But that does not justify the level of the latest hike in edible oil prices. The greed for making undue profit among a section of unscrupulous importers and traders is largely responsible for any disproportionate increase in the price of essentials. These importers and traders, in most cases, are hardly guided by ethical business practices. That is why when the prices of a commodity do record a decline in the international market, these people stick to their old price tags on the plea of their higher procurement price. But if the opposite happens, they do react instantly to reap windfall profits.
The government is not supposed to intervene or control the market in a free-economy. But it cannot skip its duties and responsibilities to the millions of consumers either. The consumers are subjected to hike in prices of essentials, at times, rather whimsically. The Ministry of Commerce (MoC) does have interactions with the importers and traders. But such interactions hardly produce anything tangible.
What has happened with onion prices is pointer to that fact. The government is partly to blame for the crisis over onion. For, it did not monitor the market properly and take timely actions in the wake of crop failure in some major onion growing states in India, the number one external source of onion procurement for Bangladesh.
Though belated the government had extended all possible help to the private importers when the onion price soared to a historic high. But the importers/ traders did not act responsibly as far as the prices of the item were concerned. The government must be aware of the fact that the overall price situation has already come under pressure. The hike in edible oil prices would only exacerbate the problem. It is thus high time the MoC took appropriate measures to rein in the uptrend in prices of essentials, including edible oils.
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