Rice price surge continues as duty-cut, imports show no impact

YASIR WARDAD | Saturday, 6 March 2021

Rice, the main staple, has become even costlier during the past week, ending on Friday despite the government's recent measures to improve its supply in the market.

The soaring prices have hit hard the consumers who are already hard-pressed by the pandemic fallout.

On Friday, coarse rice varieties retailed at Tk 48-52 a kiligramme (kg) and medium varieties at Tk 56-60 a kilogram-a Tk 2.0-3.0 rise in prices per kg over a period of one week.

The Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) recorded a 2.0-4.0-per cent hike in prices in a week while the current price of coarse rice is 37 per cent higher than in 2020.

The prices of finer rice remained almost static at Tk 65-82 a kg, depending on varieties and quality.

According to market forecasters, prices might soar further, even could touch the 'September 2017' level when cost of the staple grain reached an all-time high.

They suggested the government take prompt measures to keep prices within the reach of commoners.

Meanwhile, global rice prices also rose by 1.5 per cent in February, marking a consecutive three-month surge, said the latest Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) report published on March 04.

Current rice prices are 11.4 per cent higher than that of last year, it added.

However, food ministry has recently proposed to reduce import duty on parboiled rice to 15 per cent from 25 per cent to spur import of the staple in higher volume.

Last January, the government cut the duty to 25 per cent from the previous level of 62.5 per cent.

The government has permitted 320 importers to bring 1.0-million tonnes of rice from global sources.

Private importers have brought only 0.255-million tonnes from India while L/C has been opened for 0.995-million tonnes until February 27, according to the food ministry data updated on March 04.

However, Department of Agricultural Marketing assistant director TM Rashed Khan said prices have remained almost static at mill and wholesale levels in rice hubs for the past seven days.

Prices have showed a slight hike at Dhaka city wholesale and retail outlets by Tk 1.0-2.0 a kg, he told the FE.

"Rice prices are on the rise at a time when the government is reducing import duty further, which is not normal development," said Consumers Association of Bangladesh secretary Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan.

Despite a substantial drop in local rice production, he said, a delay in taking decision on import and later maintaining higher import duty created a sort of instability in the market.

Mr Bhuiyan said TCB data showed that Aman production witnessed a fall of 1.5-million tonnes against the target in the current fiscal year amid six spells of flood.

So, the decision on import duty cut was made much later when global prices started to surge, he mentioned.

The analyst claimed the revision of import duty only benefit importers as they are profiting high from medium and finer quality parboiled rice.

City wholesalers, importers and mill gates should be closely monitored by government agencies to avoid any kind of artificial price hike, he suggested.

Value chain expert and economist Prof Golam Hafeez Kennedy said the latest decision to maintain 15-per cent duty could hardly help commoners as minimum cost of importing per-kg coarse rice would be not less than Tk 42.

The country is two months away from the next rice harvesting season. So, farmers' interests should also be taken into consideration, he commented.

As the government has a cap of 1.0-million tonnes of rice import through private channel, Prof Kennedy said, it could fully remove duty and purchase a good amount from importers to raise its own rice stock.

"In this way, the government can also protect farmers from any price debacle during Boro harvesting season."

Aman season ended in January and the government predicted 14-million tonnes of rice production against a production target of 15.5-million tonnes.

State warehouses have a stock of only 0.53-million tonnes of rice in March 2021 which was above 1.0 million tonnes in the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the FAO All Rice Price Index rose for the third successive month in February 2021 to reach 116.0 points, up 1.5 per cent from January and 11.4 per cent above its year-earlier level.

Prices of both Indian parboiled and 5.0 per cent broken rice prices witnessed a 1.0-2.3 per cent hike in February than that in January, according to the FAO report.

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