Importers as well as wholesalers fear that prices of Ramadan essentials, such as grams, dates, lentils and sugar, may be hiked this year largely owing to pandemic-led production disruptions and a surge in prices in the international market.
Businessmen have said they usually try to put a leash on commodity prices in the holy month for Muslims – which will begin in mid-April – by increasing market supply. But the policy may not calm the local market since the international market of Ramadan essentials has been edging up over the last two weeks without any sign of a let-up.
According to traders, commodity supplies to the wholesale market have been normal so far, and importers have increased imports and stocks of goods ahead of Ramadan.
Prices of essential food items such as rice and oil have been rising over the last two months owing to a market hike globally. Sugar, grams, lentils and grass-peas – items that see a surge in demand during Ramadan – have in recent days got caught up in the price hike.
Meanwhile, importers have said they have already stocked most of the Ramadan essentials after bringing them in through Chattogram port. They have opened letters of credit (LCs) for importing more by sea in the next two months.
Despite all such precautions, importers and wholesalers have said the commodity market may turn volatile during Ramadan.
Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said more than half of the Ramadan essentials had already been imported, and the remaining consignments would arrive in the country in the next two months.
"Since prices of most items have spiked in the international market due to the pandemic-led situation, the local market may show a spiraling in prices as well," he noted.
The business leader, however, hoped increasing imports would be able to cap the prices.
Legumes lead the price hike rally
Grass-peas sold at Tk2150 per maund (37.32 kilograms) two weeks ago in Chattogram's Khatunganj wholesale market. Over the last two weeks, the item hiked from Tk500-560 per maund to Tk2,700-2,720.
Similar to the legume, prices of grams spiked Tk400-600 in the last two weeks, and now the item is at Tk2,200-2,400 per maund in wholesale.
Both the legumes see a surge in demand in every Ramadan. Meanwhile, prices of white peas, lentils, sugar and edible oil have been soaring ahead of Ramadan.
According to Customs House Chittagong, imports of soybean, lentils, sugar and dates between July last year and January of the current year have surpassed the year-on-year imports. But most of the items have been in the price hike range for around two months.
However, grams and palm oil imports declined in the seven months of the current fiscal year compared to the corresponding period of the previous year.
Essentials may remain pricier in Ramadan
Mohammad Alamgir, owner of the Chattogram-based leading importer Masers RM Traders, said imports of Ramadan essentials began through Chattogram port one-and-a-half months ago.
Currently importers and businessmen are stocking up the imported items ahead of the holy month for Muslims. The imports will continue for two more months before the beginning of Ramadan, Alamgir told The Business Standard.
He said although prices of essentials depend on imports and supplies, commodity prices are likely to remain high in the Ramadan season ahead.
He said, "The pandemic disrupted production worldwide, prompting price hikes in the international market. This has also impacted the local market." ***