India's decision to lift a ban on onion exports from January 1 may have provided some relief to Bangladeshi consumers but has led to a wave of anger among importers.
UNB has learnt that many of these businessmen are, in fact, reluctant to unload the imported onions that have already reached Chattogram Port, fearing losses due to a sharp drop in the prices of the sought-after vegetable in the domestic market.
India withdrew its ban on onion exports with effect from the new year, nearly three and a half months after imposing the same to contain the domestic prices. Onion prices had hit the roof in Bangladesh, following the abrupt ban.
However, after two days after the ban was lifted, as many as five trucks with 65 tonnes of onions reached Khatunganj, the biggest wholesale market in Chattogram, on Sunday, sources said. And in just a day, the onion prices dropped sharply at all major domestic hubs.
Businessmen say they imported onions at Tk 40-45 a kg but the prices have now declined to Tk 30-32 a kg in the wholesale market. "If we unload the imported onions and sell them, we are going to count huge losses," said an importer.
Mohammad Idris, the general secretary of the Hamid Ullah Mia Market Association in Khatunganj, said, "Due to the drop in the prices of onions in local markets, many businessmen are not unloading their imports."
However, the port authorities have threatened to auction the imported onions if the traders do not take any steps to unload the consignments within 45 days.
Omar Faruk, secretary to Chattogram Port, said, “When the onion prices had hit the roof, some 24,000 tonnes of onions were imported from different countries. But they are yet to be unloaded by importers."
Authorities concerned have already sent reminders to these importers. "They now have 45 days to unload their goods, failing which we will put the imports on auction,” said Omar.
Deputy Director of Plant Quarantine Station at Chittagong Port Dr Mohammad Asaduzzaman Bulbul said the businessmen had submitted their requirement plans for importing 2.9 lakh metric tonnes of onions from abroad.
"As per their demand, the port authorities have provided clearance for importing 1.30 lakh MT onions from countries like Myanmar, Pakistan, China, Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia, South Africa, UAE, Iran and Russia," he said.
According to the Department of Agriculture Extension, 23 lakh tonnes of onion are produced in the country while there is a demand for 24-25 lakh tonnes. "But 30-35 percent local variety onions got damaged due to lack of proper preservation."