In a desperate bid to stabilise rice price, the government has decided to further reduce the duty on import of the staple and strike a deal with Thailand to buy rice.
Meanwhile, private importers, anticipating the duty slash, are delaying in having the already imported rice released at the country's two main land ports -- Hili in Dinajpur and Benapole in Jessore.
Over 200 trucks loaded with some 7,000 tonnes of rice were standing still at the ports yesterday.
As rice prices continue to remain high, the food ministry on July 25 proposed to allow import of the staple on zero tariffs.
On Tuesday, the commerce ministry informed the parliamentary standing committee concerned that the government would halve the import duty from 10 percent.
Bahauddin Nasim, a member of the parliamentary body on the ministry, told The Daily Star yesterday although the food ministry insisted on lifting the duty altogether, the government would keep a five percent duty on rice import.
Till last night, the National Board of Revenue, however, did not receive any communications in this regard.
But speculation over an imminent duty cut prompted private importers to go slow with the release of already imported rice consignments from India.
On June 20, the government reduced duty on rice import from 28 percent to 10 percent. As a result, the country witnessed over 2.4 lakh tonnes of rice import in the last one and a half months. This volume is almost double the entire volume of rice imported by private traders in the last financial year.
Mamunur Rashid, an importer, told our Dinajpur correspondent Kongkon Karmaker yesterday that they were taking time in unloading the imported rice as they heard that the government would lower the duty further.
“We are waiting for a final decision from the government,” said Rashedul Islam, a Clearing and Forwarding Agent at Hili Land port.
As many as 138 loaded trucks were parked at the port, said Sohrab Hossain, public relation officer of Panama Port Link Ltd at Hili. Import of rice would go up further once the duty is cut off, he said.
Our Benapole correspondent Mohsin Milon reported that 65 rice-laden trucks were kept in port area as importers were waiting to reap the duty-cut benefit.
Meanwhile, a Thai delegation is due in the city today to sign a government-to-government (G2G) deal with the food ministry for export of the staple to Bangladesh.
However, ministry sources yesterday declined to reveal the price at which the government is going to buy the rice from Thailand, which in last month had asked for a high price ($500 a tonne). The price, however, was not agreed by Bangladesh.
Besides, a Cambodian official delegation is also due sometime next week to decide on rice price. Last week, a MoU (memorandum of understanding) was signed between Bangladesh and Cambodia for the import of
10 lakh tonnes of rice from the Southeast Asian country in next five years.
After with Cambodia, if the deal is signed with Thailand today, it would be the third such import deal in two months since the government approved import of 2.5 lakh tonnes of rice from Vietnam under a separate G2G agreement.
Besides, over the past two months, the Directorate General of Food floated seven international tenders seeking to import an additional 3.5 lakh tonnes of rice.
The moves come long after the crop loss in the March flashflood, which ravaged the backswamps in the country's northeastern region where 90 percent of standing Boro crops, totalling over 10 lakh tonnes, were damaged. Fungal attacks in at least 19 districts also caused crop loss in the last Boro season.
With the Cambodian deal signed, 8.5 lakh tonnes of rice is now lined up for import, which still falls short of a projected import need of 12 lakh tonnes. A recent US Department of Agriculture projection, however, put the figure at 15 lakh tonnes in the current fiscal.
The food ministry's move also comes at a time when end-season rice stock in public granaries dropped to a six-year low and market price of coarse rice shot up to as high as Tk 48 a kg in June-July. This is a 47 percent rise from the price during the same period last year.
Despite government moves and increased imports by the private sector, a Trading Corporation of Bangladesh's market monitoring report shows that the price of coarse rice has remained static at Tk 45 a kg for over two weeks.