Thousands of tons of imported rice are stuck at the ports as businessmen are yet to get clearance from customs authorities.
The problem lies in the plastic sacks since the government has made it mandatory to use jute sacks for transportation, preservation, stocking and marketing of rice and 12 other products.
Bangladesh, the world’s fourth-biggest rice producer, was hit by floods in recent months which hit the domestic output and pushed up rice prices. There is little sign that the situation will improve soon.
Amid dwindling state reserves, the government slashed taxes on rice imports to 2% from 28% to replenish supplies and cool the soaring prices.
Sources say the Textiles and Jute Ministry has ignored a request from the Commerce Ministry to allow the rice importers to unload their consignments, and is instead advising the importers to approach the prime minister directly to resolve the issue.
However, traders said only the Textiles and Jute Ministry can break the stalemate since it issued the order on using jute sacks. Sources say the ministry is yet to comply with a directive from the Prime Minister’s Office to solve the problem.
Disgruntled businessmen pointed out that customs had given clearance to rice imported in plastic sacks from Vietnam and Thailand under the government-to-government agreement, but was unwilling to give approval when it came to private importers.
“At least 50,000 tons of rice are stuck at various ports and we fear that rain will damage the rice,” one importer said on condition of anonymity. “It will negatively impact the rice market and the economy.”
Several traders said exporters had packed the rice in plastic as they were not bound to use jute sacks for the transportation or preservation of the commodity.
“The price of each ton of rice would have gone up by Tk1,000 if we supplied rice in jute sacks. In that case, the government’s purpose would not have been fulfilled and the rice price would not go down,” the importer said.
Food Minister Qamrul Islam said the problem will be solved eventually. “Even if the imported rice hits the market late, it will have a positive impact,” he added.
Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed said he could do nothing about the situation as it was not under his ministry but added that he had requested the textiles and jute secretary to relax the order on sacks for the sake of the businessmen.
“I hope it will be resolved soon,” he said.
This article was first published on Bangla Tribune