The government is going to primarily permit private sector to import a maximum of 1.0 million tonnes of rice to cool down its price on the domestic market.
Sources say the move comes after the slashing of rice-import duty to 25 per cent from a steep 62.5 per cent on June 22 by the government amid rocketing price index of the grain as coarse variety sold at Tk 54, medium Tk 64 and finer as high as Tk 96 a kilogram.
"We have already issued a notification on our website inviting application from the interested private importers who could submit papers in-between June 27 and July 17," Food Secretary Md Ismail Hossain told the FE.
He said primarily they would give permission to import 0.8-1.0 million tonnes which might be increased depending on necessity.
According to the food ministry, it permitted importers to bring 1.7 million tonnes of rice between July and October in the outgoing financial year at reduced duty rates of 25 per cent and 15 per cent. However, from November 1, 2021 the duty rate was refixed at 62.5 per cent.
Private importers were able to bring only 0.3 million tonnes of rice during the period, while prices made phenomenal rises-reportedly partly for involvement of big businesses in stock business.
However, rice prices continued to surge even during the peak Boro harvesting period (April-June) this year, the key rice-growing season.
A meeting of the food planning and monitoring committee (FPMC), headed by the food minister, on June 6 decided on lowering rice-import duty and sought prime minister's permission in this regard.
The prime minister's office in the second week of June gave a positive response to the market-intervention matter and the Economic Relations Division issued a notification on June 22 slashing import duty to 25 per cent from 62.5 per cent, according to food ministry's officials.
However, the government declaration to ease rice import has yet to put any impact on retailing.
Rice prices witnessed 10-22-percent rise in last three months while 5.0-10 per cent just in a week, according to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh and city grocers.
Farm economist Prof Jahangir Alam told the FE that the decision to ease the import of rice is praiseworthy at a time when the country has been witnessing severe floods in its many parts while Aus crop suffered a complete damage in Sylhet, Sunamganj and few other districts.
He said heavy rain and wind in the southwestern and southern regions for the cyclone Asani in May last caused damage to 2.0-3.0 per cent of the total crops.
"This might have created concern among millers and traders who are buying the staple in larger volumes than their requirements," he adds.
He notes that demand for rice has also increased notably this year as coarse wheat-flour prices even surpassed that of coarse and medium rice prices-in what is dubbed 'imported inflation' for a global crunch amid war in the grain hub in Ukraine region.
He also says though the government has reduced the import duty, sourcing such a big chunk of rice in a short period of time would be challenging for importers.
Compared to other food essentials, he notes, rice price hasn't increased that much on the global market, which is a good sign.
But the declaration of Bangladesh's rice-import-duty cut might cause a surge in prices in the Asian market, he said.
He suggests the private sector should get all logistics in a short period to bring rice quickly from countries like India.
Meanwhile, prices of coarse rice, supplied by traditional millers, hit record highs at Tk 52-54, medium Tk 60-64, finer Tk 70-80 a kg in the city retail markets-Tk 2.0-4.0 further hike a kg in last two weeks.
Consumer goods companies like Pran RFL, BRAC's Aarong, TK Group etc were selling finer rice at Tk 77-96 a kg---Tk 6.0-to-Tk 11 hike a kg in last two weeks, according to TCB, online shopping platforms like Chaldal.com and city groceries.
Pran RFL's Najirshail rice was selling at Tk 96 and Aarong's Miniket at Tk 91 a kg--maximum retail price on the domestic market now, according to market sources.