Rice import: Minister-secretary return home without no headway

Rice samples are seen demonstrating for export at a rice processing factory in Vietnam's southern Mekong delta, Vietnam on 6 July 2017.
Reuters file photo

A high-level delegation led by food minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder returned home after visiting Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand where they held discussions with officials of those countries on the import of rice.

However, no deal or memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed with any of these countries on rice import during their trip.

According to food ministry sources, the government is emphasising strengthening relations with countries exporting rice other than India fearing global rice price may rise further next year.

The trip to three countries was made as part of a special approval on rice import by prime minister’s office.

The six-member delegation took part in the minister-level talks in Vietnam and Cambodia and held meetings with government agencies exporting rice and traders in Thailand.

Speaking to Porthom Alo, food secretary Md Ismail Hossain said, “We have already started importing rice from Vietnam and talks were held for import of more rice.”

“Cambodia wants to export 20-30 thousand tonnes of parboiled rice, but we do not need this rice now. Thailand is not interested in government-to-government deal to export rice for now, but private sector can import rice from this country,” he added.

Breakdown of rice export

Like in the past, India will export the highest amount of rice this year. However, rice production dropped in the country due to drought. The country exported 21.5 million tonnes of rice last year and will export 17 million tonnes of rice this year. India has imposed ban and increased tariff on rice export since September this year.

India is the main destination of Bangladesh for rice import. In 2007, Bangladesh singed a deal with India to import 500,000 tonnes of rice, but Bangladesh did not receive the entire amount. This time, when talks on rice import began India restricted export and Bangladesh took an initiative to import rice from other countries.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, former agriculture secretary AMM Shawkat Ali said rice should be imported from any country if price is cheap.

When a high-level government delegation visits any country, they will get assurance on rice export from the respective country and officials of food departments are enough to improve relations and hold talks in rice import, he added.

From neighbor to East

The government looked to East Asian countries to import rice after trouble arises in India. Thailand has decided to export 7.5 million tonnes of rice this year. Bangladesh is interested in government-to-government (G2G) deal to export rice, but Thailand did not give a positive response. As private sector is strong in Thailand, its government is not interested in G2G deal on rice export.

According to the delegation sources, China, world’s largest importer of rice, has already singed a deal with Thailand with advance payment to procure rice. Indonesia and several Meddle East countries also paid Thailand in advance. Amid this situation, import of rice is not possible from Thailand other than private sector deal

The delegation sources further said the five-year MoU on import of rice between the governments of Bangladesh and Vietnam would end this December and both countries agreed to renew it.

The Food ministry has started working to finalise the MoU by this month. However, Vietnam wants to export sunned rice, but Bangladesh does not procure it now. There is no progress on Vietnam now other than renewing the MoU.

Cambodia also wants to export 20-30 thousand tonnes of sunned rice, but Bangladesh needs parboiled rice. So, no rice will be import from Cambodia for now. However, its government called Bangladesh to invest in paddy cultivation and setting up parboiled rice mills in the country.

Led by food minister and secretary, the delegation visited Cambodia on 22-24 November, Vietnam on 24-27 November and Thailand on 27-31 November and returned home on 1 December.

Sources at food ministry said a G2G deal was signed with Vietnam in September last to import 230,000 tonnes of rice. Besides, 100,000 tonnes of rice are being procured from India and 200,000 tonnes of rice from Myanmar. Parboiled and sunned rice is being procured from Vietnam at a price of $521and $494 a tonne respectively.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna