The government has given the nod to private firms to import 330,000 tonnes of rice as it looks to increase the supply of the staple grain in the domestic market to curb spiralling prices.
Until yesterday, the food ministry approved 29 applications from rice millers and traders to import rice. The food ministry is likely to permit more traders in the coming days.
"We will continue to import until the market becomes stable. We will stop if we see farmers do not get fair prices for their produce," said Food Secretary Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum.
The approval came less than a week after the government, apart from buying through the Directorate of Food, announced its decision to allow the private sector to buy rice from international markets to contain prices, which have been soaring for the last one year on the speculation of a reduced yield.
Prices of coarse rice, mainly consumed by low-income groups, registered the sharpest increase.
The retail price of the coarse grain was Tk 46-Tk 50 a kilogram yesterday, up 48 per cent from a year ago, data from the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh showed.
On December 28, the food ministry wrote to the commerce ministry and the National Board of Revenue to take steps to cut the import tariff on rice to 25 per cent from 62.5 per cent to facilitate the import.
It said it would permit to import based on the application from the private sector.
In its permission issued on January 3, the food ministry allowed 10 firms to bring in 105,000 tonnes.
Twelve firms got the consent to buy 160,000 tonnes on January 4, and another seven yesterday to import 65,000 tonnes of rice.
The food ministry attached conditions that importers would have to open the letters of credit within seven days after getting the allotment.
The importers permitted to import 5,000 tonnes of rice must supply half of the allotted amount in 10 days after opening the LCs, and the rest within 20 days.
The firms that received permission to import 10,000 and more rice will require to import half of the approved amount within 15 days after opening the LCs. All the allotted amount will have to be released into the market within 30 days, said the food ministry.
"We are importing from Bardhaman India. We have come to know that our trucks have already been loaded," said Chitta Majumder, managing director of Mazumder Group of Industries, which received permission.
Mazumder and its sister concerns have been given the responsibility to import 50,000 tonnes of rice.
The import cost of rice, named Swarna-5 variety, will be Tk 38 per kilogram, he said. "We hope to get permission to import more."
The Directorate of Food has so far floated tenders to buy 250,000 tonnes of rice from the international market.
Food Secretary Khanum earlier said the government would import at least 10 lakh tonnes of rice to boost the stock amid growing concerns over the impacts of the second wave of coronavirus infections.