DHAKA: Thousands of tons of imported rice are stuck at the ports as businessmen are yet get clearance from customs authorities. The problem lies in the plastic sacks since the government has made it mandatory to use jute sacks for transportation, preservation, stocking and marketing of rice and 12 other products. Bangladesh, the world’s fourth-biggest rice producer, was hit by floods in recent months which hit the domestic output and pushed up rice prices. There is little sign that the situation will improve soon. Amid dwindling state reserves, the government slashed tax on rice imports to 2% from 28% to replenish supplies and rein in the soaring prices. Sources say the Textiles and Jute Ministry has paid no heed to the Commerce Ministry’s letter requesting to allow businessmen unload their batch of imported rice. Moreover, Textiles and Jute Ministry has advised the importers to approach the prime minister to resolve the matter. Several traders, requesting not to be named, said exporters were not bound to use jute sacks for transportation or preservation of rice. So, they sent rice in plastic sacks. “At least 50,000 tons of rice are stuck at various ports and we fear that rain will damage the rice,” one of them said. “It will negatively impact the rice market and the economy.” The businessman said the price of each ton of rice would have gone up by Tk1,000 if the exporters supplied rice in jute sacks. “In that case, neither the government’s purpose would not have fulfilled nor would the rice price had gone down,” the importer added. Traders say only the Textiles and Jute Ministry can break the stalemate since it issued the order on using jute sacks. Sources say the ministry is yet to comply with a directive from the Prime Minister’s Office to solve the problem.
Disgruntled businessmen pointed out that customs had given clearance to rice imported in plastic sacks from Vietnam and Thailand under the government-to-government agreement but was unwilling to give approval when it came to private importers. Food Minister Qamrul Islam said the problem will be solved eventually. “Even if the imported rice hits the market late, it will have a positive impact,” he added. Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed said he could do nothing about the situation as it was not under his ministry but added that he had requested the textiles and jute secretary to relax its order on sacks for the sake of the businessmen. “I hope it will be resolved soon,” he said.