Bangladesh's imports have started picking up for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic paralysed the national economy, according to shipping executives.
Imports surged in January by 5.0-6.0 per cent in terms of goods, not in value, driven by a substantial rise in commodities meant for the Ramadan beginning in April.
They said many feeder vessels with goods have been waiting at Singapore port for mother vessels to be bound for Bangladesh.
However, the Bangladesh Bank (BB) said the opening of letters of credit or LCs for imports has increased by 2.56 per cent (f.o.b) last December.
On Sunday, it said six months' import from July to December 2020 was 0.8 per cent lower than that of the corresponding period in 2019.
Total import in value was $28.8 billion during the period under review, showed the central bank data.
The BB said rice import ballooned to $44.2 million, a rise of nearly 1,900 per cent (in terms of LC opening).
During the July-December time in 2019, rice import was valued just $2.2 million.
Fresh fruit and dry fruit, edible oil, medicine and drug imports were higher than the July-December 2019 period, according to the BB data. It, however, said wheat, sugar and pulse imports were lower in the July-December 2020 period.
Bangladesh has doled out aggressive stimulus to support the domestic demand in the virus-infected economy.
In the meantime, the Chattogram-based private container depots, who handle 38 key import products, said they are seeing some improvement in the overall imports.
Seventeen depots handled an estimated 30,000 TEUs of imports last January which, they believe, is almost equivalent to that of the pre-pandemic level.
They said food commodities, poultry feed raw material and raw cotton were seen at the depots.
Shipping executive Capt AS Chowdhury said, "We've intelligence (report) about the picking up of imports as our HQs informed us of it."
Shahed Sarwar, deputy managing director at Crown Navigation, a local agent of K-Line, said: "All vessels being berthed at the port are full of imports."
"The trend of import is definitely better than June, July or August," he told the FE.
The improvement in imports indicates Bangladesh's accelerating economic recovery, mainly driven by a substantial surge in consumer products and industrial needs, said Centre for Policy Dialogue director (research) Dr Khondker Golam Moazzem. He said the import of capital machinery and other industry-related goods is yet to pick up.
Mr Moazzem himself calculated a ratio between LC opening and its settlement of the July-December data.
"I found that the ratio is over 1.0 per cent for consumer goods over 2019 while the industry-related goods import ratio is less than 1.0 per cent or even 0.6-0.7 per cent."
He said the values the central bank provided had some sort of "price effect" as the international market of commodities has remained volatile in recent times.
However, import of cement clinkers and lime jumped to 10 per cent, signalling that the construction sector is improving as fiscal stimulus boosts domestic demand.
On the other hand, importers said they have been importing essential commodities for the Ramadan market.
The international market has remained up coupled with the global container crisis, they added.
"But we're procuring commodities like chickpea, lentil and oil," said Mostafa Haider, a director at TK Group, one of the leading commodity players in Bangladesh.
BSM Group chairman Abul Bashar Chowdhury said the global market of key essentials is high partly because of higher buys by China and drought in South America.
"But we're procuring from overseas market and some goods have already landed in Chattogram to meet the domestic demand," he mentioned.