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Commodity prices high before Ramadan 

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Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday asked the authorities concerned for measures to reduce import duties on edible oil, sugar, dates, and rice to ensure their adequate supplies on the market ahead of Ramadan.

She gave the directives while presiding over the weekly cabinet meeting at her Tejgaon office in the city amid commodity price hikes before Ramadan, the Arabic month of fasting for Muslims beginning in March.

The prime minister also inquired about the commodity market situation after her directives in the first meeting of her new cabinet for containing the rising prices of essentials and overall inflation, cabinet secretary Md Mahbub Hossain told a press briefing at the secretariat later on the day.

‘The prime minister has directed the authorities concerned for coordinated efforts to contain commodity price hikes. She has also asked for steps to reduce import duties on four items—edible oil, sugar, rice, and dates—so that there is no supply shortage during Ramadan,’ said the cabinet secretary.

He claimed that the PM’s recent directives regarding price hike control had begun impacting the market as prices of some items, including rice, were falling.

The cabinet was informed that imports of soybean oil, dates, and sugar have increased now compared to the corresponding period in the past year.

The cabinet secretary mentioned that letters of credit for importing 1,25,374 tonnes of soybean oil have been opened so far this year. It was 97,287 tonnes in the corresponding month in 2023, he said.

LCs for importing 44,734 tonnes of dates have been opened so far this year, against 37,107 tonnes during the same period in the past year, added the cabinet secretary.

LCs for importing 3,87,138 tonnes of raw sugar have been opened to date, against 3,38,870 tonnes in 2023, the government official informed.

He said that there were no such complaints from businesses blaming the dollar crisis for affecting imports of essential commodities.

Both cabinet meetings discussed the commodity market as the prices of most essentials, including rice and vegetables, went up further after the January 7 general elections.

Presiding over the first cabinet meeting held on January 15 at the Prime Minister’s Office, Hasina issued a set of directives for containing prices for essentials and inflation ahead of Ramadan.

The PM had directed the authorities concerned to ensure adequate supplies of the commodities that face high demand during Ramadan and strengthen market monitoring across the country.

The prime minister on several occasions gave similar directives in the past years, as commodity prices remained high.

The average inflation was 9.48 in 2023, the highest in 12 years.

Responding to a question, the cabinet secretary said that deputy commissioners across the country had reported that the mobile courts were punishing errant businesses during ongoing drives against price manipulation.

Despite the drives, the prices of some of the essential commodities continued to rise on the kitchen markets in the city, despite government assurances.

Like in previous years, traders started to increase the prices of essential commodities before one to one-and-a-half months before the start of Ramadan.

The prices of rice, flour, lentils, gram, edible oil, broiler chicken, beef, and eggs have been maintaining an upward trend in the market for the past one month while some other commodities, including sugar, powdered milk, and dates, have remained pricy over the past few months.

The prices of onion and potato witnessed a fresh rise in the city markets on Monday amid the ongoing harvesting season.

The prices of onion increased by Tk 10 a kilogram to Tk 100–110 a kilogram for the local variety on the Dhaka kitchen market and Tk 110–120 a kilogram for the imported variety.

The government-owned Trading Corporation of Bangladesh data on Monday, however, showed that local onion sold for Tk 90-100 a kilogram which was 153 per cent higher than the prices of the same day in 2023.

Data showed that imported onion sold for Tk 100–120 a kilogram, 159 per cent up from the past year.

TCB data also showed that the price of potato in the past year increased by 63.64 per cent to Tk 40-50 a kilogram.

The prices of essential commodities were a little bit higher than government statistics on the kitchen markets in the city.

The TCB data showed that the prices of rice increased by up to 8.33 per cent, red lentils by 10.26 per cent and gram by 11.43 per cent in the past year.

It also showed that the price of broiler chicken and eggs increased by 22.58 per cent and 9.41 per cent in the past year.

The price of garlic increased by nearly 77 per cent in the past year, while the price of ginger increased by more than 60 per cent, government data showed.

The price of sugar sold for Tk 140–145 per kilogram on Monday was nearly 24 per cent higher than the same day in 2022, TCB data showed.

Consumers Association of Bangladesh president Ghulam Rahman told New Age on Monday that the prices of all the commodities remained excessively high, causing huge suffering for the lower and lower-middle-income people.

‘When high inflation takes place in a country, the profit expectations of traders also increase. Coordinated efforts from government agencies are needed to ensure an available supply of commodities and proper competition in the market to keep prices stable during Ramadan,’ he said.

Once the price of a commodity is increased, it is very difficult to bring down the price level, Ghulam Rahman, the former commerce secretary, said.

He suggested the government take the required initiatives to check inflation, saying that otherwise, commodity prices would not come under control.

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