Market price: Govt now moves to set rice price

Ahasanul informed the media that three ministries - agriculture, food and commerce - have been jointly engaged in the work. The new price will be implemented from 14 April or Pahela Boishakh

RiceFile photo

Different departments of the government set prices of various daily essentials though that could not be implemented in most of the cases. Despite this the government has now taken an initiative to set the rice price.

State minister for commerce Ahasanul Islam Sunday told this to the media after a meeting of a task force on monitoring the commodity prices and market situation at the secretariat. Representatives of agriculture and food ministries were present at the meeting.

The state minister said the government would fix the prices based on rice variety instead of the current system of classifying the rice into three categories: fine rice, semi-fine rice and coarse rice. Already a plan of action has been drawn up for the sale of rice at the producer, miller, wholesale and retail levels, he added.

Ahasanul informed the media that three ministries - agriculture, food and commerce - have been jointly engaged in the work. The new price will be implemented from 14 April or Pahela Boishakh.

Prices for 15 types of rice were set from the meeting with the lowest being Tk 48 per kg and the highest at Tk 55.57.

An analysis of the information of the Department of Agricultural Marketing, however, reveals that currently the rice prices in three divisional towns - Rajshahi, Rangpur and Sylhet - are cheaper than the newly set lowest price of rice. In Rajshahi, the price is Tk 45, and in Rangpur and Sylhet it is Tk 46.

Questions have been raised over fixing the identical price for the whole country as the price is cheaper in the production area and in villages.

Market analysts think if the same price is fixed for all areas, then there is a fear that the price will be hiked in areas where the rice is cheaper.

The price of rice has been high in the country for the last four years. According to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), the price of coarse rice in the Dhaka markets now stands at Tk 50-52, semi-fine rice at Tk 55-58 and fine rice price stands at Tk 65-76.

The price of coarse rice at the beginning of 2020 was Tk 30 while the lowest price of fine rice was Tk 45.

The rice price has increased by 3-8 per cent in the last one month, said TCB.

The hike in rice prices affects the inflation rate the most. Due to the high price of rice, the inflation rate in the country has been close to 10 per cent for a long time.

In its election manifesto for the 12th parliamentary election, Awami League prioritised curbing the inflation rate. The cabinet members of the new government also stressed on curbing the inflation rate in their statements.

The Bangladesh Bank has relaxed its control over the interest rate on bank loans which has resulted in interest rate surging past 13.5 per cent. Despite all the steps, the inflation rate remained high in the country. The rate was over 9.5 per cent in February.

In this context, the task force on monitoring the commodity prices and market situation held the meeting Sunday, where commerce secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh, Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission (BTTC) chairman Ahmed Munirus Saleheen, Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection director general AHM Shafiquzzaman, TCB chairman Brig. Gen. Md Ariful Hasan attended.

On behalf of the BTTC, its deputy head Md Mahmudul Hasan presented the market situation. He said the price of flour in the country has not decreased in comparison to the price of wheat in the international market. Quoting from a Reuters report, BTTC said the import price of wheat per tonne was USD 334 a year ago which has come down to USD 250 on 29 March this year.

BTTC also informed the meeting that the price of some commodities has come down compared to what it was in the beginning of the Ramadan.

Speaking about this, the state minister for commerce told the media that the price of daily essentials at the domestic market has been declining gradually since the 1st Ramadan. There would not be any crisis in supply of commodities, including sugar, in the market until the Eid-ul-Azha irrespective of whatever happens in the global market, Ahasanul asserted.

Mentioning that the price of agricultural products in the market has come down to a reasonable level, the state minister said, onions are coming from India. Some 1,650 tonnes of onion was supposed to reach the country Sunday night.

Although the Minister of State for Commerce expressed satisfaction, TCB data reveals that prices of various products are much higher than this time last year. For instance, the price of onions in the market has decreased recently at Tk 50-60 per kg. But the price in the last year at this time was Tk 30-40 per kg. Potato price is now 81 per cent higher than last year.

Rice price to be set on variety

The question is - whether the price of the fine variety of rice would also be fixed. Among the 15 varieties of rice that have been mentioned so far, Nazirshail, Jirashail and various fine rices are not included.

Asked, agriculture secretary Wahida Akhtar said over the phone Sunday night, “It cannot be said right now. But the Ministry of Commerce will present a surprise on time.”

Commerce secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh said that there is another meeting on 3 April in the Ministry of Agriculture. He hopes that everything will come up from there.

No one follows the govt price chart

In a bid to control the prices of different products, various departments of the government set prices of different products at different times. In September, 2020, the price of rice was fixed from a meeting with millers but that could not be implemented. The commerce ministry regularly sets the prices of edible oil and sugar but the market price depends on the global supply and demand.

The commerce ministry, agriculture ministry and livestock ministry in September last year fixed the prices of potatoes, eggs and local varieties of onion but none of them could be implemented in the market.

On the occasion of Ramadan, the Directorate of Agriculture Marketing, an organisation under the Ministry of Agriculture, fixed the prices of 29 products but no attempt was made to enforce it. Rather, the Minister of State for Commerce said Sunday that due to the disclosure of the reasonable price of 29 products, there has been a lot of controversy.

A research carried out by the Bangladesh Development Research Institute and Bangladesh Competition Commission has shown that the price of rice is mainly controlled by the big rice millers. But the government has no control over them.

Speaking about fixing the price of rice, BIDS professorial fellow and former research director M Asaduzzaman said that apart from proper market management, there is no use in thinking about whether the rice is fine or coarse and to be called. There is a shortage in the supply of any product, which product should be emphasised now or where the market situation of any product will stand after the next three months - does the Ministry of Commerce have any predictions about this? It does not exist.

Asaduzzaman said, “I would say, instead of real work, they are paying more attention to unnecessary tasks.”