Salt millers yesterday demanded imposition of 100 percent import duty on sodium sulphate, alleging that unscrupulous traders are importing the item and mixing it with edible salt before putting it up for sale in the market.
Sodium chloride is the chemical name of salt whereas sodium sulphate is mainly used in the manufacture of detergents, industrial dyes and paper pulp.
Bangladesh Labon Mill Malik Samity, the association of private salt mill owners, also demanded lifting restrictions on the import of salt as soon as possible to meet the country's demand.
Salt is produced mainly in the south-eastern coastal region of Cox's Bazar and the government restricts its import to protect the interests of producers, said the body.
The Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) usually gives an estimate of shortfalls every year based on which the government decides on whether to go for import. “The country's salt industry is facing a tremendous setback for reasons such as the increase of import of sodium sulphate,” said Nurul Kabir, president of the samity, at a press conference at a Dhaka hotel.
The association estimates that farmers would produce around 15 lakh tonnes of salt against a demand of around 20 lakh tonnes this year. The remaining five lakh tonnes need to be imported, said Kabir.
Taking advantage of the shortfall and government delays in allowing import, dishonest traders are importing sodium sulphate and mixing them with salt before marketing as edible salt, said the association.
“Thousands of tonnes of sodium sulphate are imported through the Chittagong port regularly. This has nearly caused the closure of local salt mills. The use of such salt in food poses serious health risks,” said Kabir.
He said the BSCIC estimates that salt shortfall this year would be 1.28 lakh tonnes.
Yet no decision has been taken regarding salt import, he said, adding that in the last two years the industries and commerce ministries jointly approved salt import without taking the BSCIC estimates into consideration.
Salt import doubled year-on-year to 5 lakh tonnes in fiscal 2017-18 from 2.5 lakh tonnes the previous year, according to the samity.
The demand for unrefined salt was 16.57 lakh tonnes in 2017-18. Local production was 13.25 lakh tonnes as of April 2018, according to data on the BSCIC website.
Kabir also urged the government to introduce farmer-friendly policies to save the sector, which provides a livelihood to hundreds of farmers, workers and millers.