Commodity prices on the rise: Only tall talks won’t control market

The Bangladesh Awami League has formed a new government, securing victory in the parliamentary election held on 7 January for the fourth consecutive term under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina. One of the top priorities outlined in the party's electoral manifesto was to make essential commodities affordable for general people. However, in recent days, the prices of rice, flour, meat, and other daily essentials have been on the rise.

There was a slight decrease in the prices of food grains in December. According to the latest report from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BSS), overall food inflation stood at 9.58 per cent in December 2023. This rate was 10.76 per cent in November and had peaked at 12.56 per cent in October, marking the highest in almost 12 years.

If the prices of commodities, including rice, start to spike at the beginning of the year, the inflation rate will also soar. People of limited income were under severe pressure due to inflation in 2023, says Prothom Alo reports. In this context, any further increase in the prices will lead them towards a more vulnerable economic situation.

A sudden rise in beef price from Tk 600-650 to Tk 700 immediately after the parliamentary elections is not normal. Selling beef at less than Tk 700 is not profitable, claimed the meat traders. Then the question is, how could they decrease the price before? Was that an “electoral gift”?

The increase in beef price will lead to the spike in prices of chicken, mutton and fish too. In cases of hiking the price of wheat flour and refined flour, importers have been showing excuses of devaluation of taka and dollar crisis. But there is no reason for a hike in the rice price by Tk 4-5 in just a week. The retailers have been blaming the wholesalers, who are shifting the blame on to the mill owners.

The responsibility of finding and addressing the vested quarters responsible for raising prices through conspiracy falls under the jurisdiction of law enforcement agencies, regulatory bodies, and relevant government authorities. These entities are tasked with investigating and taking appropriate legal action against any individuals or groups engaged in activities that contribute to price manipulation or inflation.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, through her directive in an unofficial meeting with cabinet members, has expressed a commitment to keeping the prices of daily essentials under control, especially during Ramadan. The Bangladesh Bank has also played a role by providing traders with the opportunity to import essential items on credit before Ramadan to prevent shortages. The specified commodities include edible oil, grams, pulses, chickpea, onion, spices, sugar, and dates.

Ramadan will begin in the second week of March this year. That is why there is no scope to wait until March. Now is the time to take effective steps to curb prices of daily essentials.

In light of this, the report on initiatives to increase the tariffs of power, gas, and water is very concerning. If the government aims to decrease the inflation rate, it must abandon the idea of raising prices for these three services.

Cabinet members and secretaries have been speaking about invisible syndicates for a long time while speaking to the media about hikes in commodity prices. The task of the new team at the commerce ministry is to bring that invisible syndicate to light and take legal actions against the people responsible. The policy makers have talked a lot about market controlling. Now they have to act.

This is not an unreasonable demand to the new government, we are sure of that.