Unscrupulous traders in Chattogram are hiking date prices on the pretext of lower imports amid the dollar crisis and rising prices in Saudi Arabia even when official data say otherwise.
According to local market data, prices of dates have gone up to 50 per cent from last year, for which the traders blame insufficient letters of credit (LCs) amid a dollar shortage and rising date fruit prices in Saudi Arabia.
However, according to Bangladesh Bank officials, sufficient LCs have been opened for the imports of daily food items like date and chickpeas ahead of the Ramadan, when demand for the goods peak in the country. Data from the country’s main foreign trade gateway also shows that there are more than enough dates to meet peak demand.
Imports sufficient to meet demand
There is no possibility for any shortage of dates during Ramadan as the country is importing enough of the fruit to meet heightened demands, said central bank officials.
“As per the LCs have opened ahead of the Ramadan, imports of dates will top last year. There is no reason for any shortages,” Bangladesh Bank spokesperson Mejbaul Haque told The Business Post.
According to Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission (BTTC) data, the country’s annual demand for dates is some 1 lakh tonnes, half of which is consumed during the holy month of Ramadan.
Data from the Plant Quarantine Station of the Chittagong port shows that the country imported some 92,000 tonnes of dates in the last fiscal year 2021-22 (FY 22). Compared to that, a total of 53,811 tonnes of dates have entered the country in the first seven months (July-January) of the ongoing fiscal year. Meaning, there are already more than enough dates in the country to meet the demand.
“Imports of dates will continue till Ramandan. There should not be a shortage of dates during the holy month,” said Md Nasir Uddin, deputy director, Plant Quarantine Station, Chittagong Port.
So, why the price hikes?
According to data from the Falmondi Market, one of the largest wholesale fruit markets in Chattogram, prices of dates have increased up to 50% year-on-year. The fruit has also become Tk 30-50 costlier in the retail markets during the period.
Traders claim prices of dates were much lower in Saudi Arabia last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That led to more imports. But now, prices have gone up. At the same time, the LC-opening crisis in the country has made it harder to import goods.
“The LC-opening crisis caused by the dollar shortage in the country is eating away the imports. Import costs have also risen for the same reason,” said Mohammad Saiful Ajam, proprietor of SK Traders and a dates importer in Chattogram.
Besides, he said, “Prices of almost all sorts of dates have gone up in Saudi Arabia compared to last year. Jadehi dates, which were sold last year for 850 Tk per kg, are currently being sold at a price of Tk 1,250. At the same time, the wholesale price of 5 kg of Maryam dates is Tk 3,400-3,500, which were sold for Tk 3,200 last year.
“Premium quality Mabrum dates are selling at Tk 4500 per five kg, compared to Tk 3,200 last year. Regular Mabrum dates are being sold at Tk 3,200 - 3,300, up from Tk 2,400 last year.
“In addition, per five kg Medjool dates are being sold for Tk 4,000, compared to Tk 2,900 last year.”
Another dates importer of the market, Zainal Abedin, owner of Dihan Enterprises and Arabian Dates Super Shop, spoke of the price hike in Saudi Arabia as well.
“Saudi Ajwa dates are currently selling at Tk 3500 per kg, up from Tk 1,800 last year. Saudi Kalmi dates now cost Tk 2,200, which was Tk 2,000 last year. Mabrum dates are selling for Tk 2500 per kg, up by Tk 200 from last year.”
Prices of Algerian and Iraqi dates have gone up as well.
However, consumer rights advocates are sceptical of the traders’ claims.
“Unscrupulous businessmen looking to make maga profits use various tricks including artificial crises. Now we are hearing that there has been less import of dates due to the dollar crisis,” said SM Najer Hossain, vice president, central committee of Consumer Association of Bangladesh.
He said, “A good amount of dates from last year’s imports are preserved in cold stores. There should be no crisis in Ramadan. I will call upon the government agencies to keep an eye on the market.”