Commerce ministry forms committee to assess annual demand of 3 commodities

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The commerce ministry has formed a five-member committee to assess the annual demand for rice, wheat and sugar to send a revised quota to India for importing the three essentials to meet the demand in the time of crisis.

The committee headed by Noor Md Mahbubul Haque, additional secretary (FTA) of the commerce ministry, is scheduled to submit the assessment report to the ministry within next 10 days, said Tapan Kanti Ghosh, senior secretary of the commerce ministry, after a meeting with the senior officials of different ministries, departments and agencies of the government on Tuesday.

The other members of the committee are senior representatives from the foreign affairs ministry, food ministry, agriculture ministry and tariff commission, Ghosh told journalists at his secretariat office in Dhaka after the meeting.

The committee will mainly analyse the annual demand, local production, and import quantity – particularly from India – over the last 10 years, for the food items.

Upon submission of the new report from the committee, the commerce ministry will revise the quota of three essentials and send it to India so the country can assure guaranteed supply of those items even during the crisis moment stemmed from the severe fallouts of the Russia-Ukraine war.

During his visit to India last month, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi demanded assured export of seven essentials to Bangladesh under a quota that India provides for Nepal, considering the tough time of Russia-Ukraine war.

The seven items were wheat, rice, sugar, onion, garlic, ginger and lentil. Of the seven items, the current import trend of three items – onion, garlic and ginger – is okay for the country. The Indian government declined to assure the export of lentil to Bangladesh as India itself is one of the major consumers of lentil.

“So, we are mainly working on three essentials so that India can assure a guaranteed supply for Bangladesh,” Ghosh said.

India has suggested that Bangladesh review the proposed import quota on seven food items as the neighbouring nation believes the quantity sought as a guaranteed supply is too high.

For example, Bangladesh has proposed that India guarantee a supply of up to 45 lakh tonnes of wheat each year.

However, India believes the quantity is too high given that its overall exports of the grain to Bangladesh stands at an annual average of about seven lakh tonnes, according to Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi.

Bangladesh annually imports nearly 65 lakh tonnes of wheat from different sources, particularly Russia and Ukraine, to meet local demand.

But following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the price of wheat increased worldwide as availability of the grain became uncertain due to ensuing volatility in the global supply chain. The commerce minister paid a two-day visit to India on 22-23 December last year to this end.

Apart from wheat, Bangladesh asked for a secured supply of seven lakh tonnes of onion, 30,000 tonnes of lentil, 20 lakh tonnes of rice, 15 lakh tonnes of sugar, 10,000 tonnes of garlic and 1.25 lakh tonnes of ginger each year.

In response, India said all the proposed quotas were too high as it found that annual exports of these items to Bangladesh were far less than that being demanded, Munshi told journalists at a press conference at the commerce ministry in Dhaka recently.

During the discussion with the journalists on Tuesday, Ghosh said the formal negotiation for signing the mega trade deal with India – Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) – may start with the commerce secretary level meeting scheduled to be held in Dhaka in March this year.

Earlier, during her visit to India in September last year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to start negotiations for signing the CEPA by the end of 2022.

However, the negotiation was delayed because India demanded two more months for studying the joint study report on the CEPA, Ghosh said.