Import of Ramadan Essentials: If needed, use forex reserves

The commerce ministry has asked Bangladesh Bank to take all necessary measures to ensure smooth import of six essentials ahead of the coming Ramadan.

If need be, the central bank should set aside a portion of its forex reserves to settle the import bills, said Senior Commerce Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh yesterday.

He, however, did not mention how much US dollars would be needed for the imports ahead of Ramadan.

The ministry on Sunday sent a letter to the BB in this regard. The ministry’s move comes as a dip in imports of a number of essentials has created concerns regarding containing their prices before Ramadan when demand usually rockets.

The government is trying to ensure a smooth supply of the six imported items ahead of Ramadan, when their demand usually surges.

Earlier on January 5, the ministry wrote to central bank to instruct the private commercial banks to set aside a portion of US dollars to facilitate the import of the six essentials — edible oil, refined sugar, lentil, onion, chickpeas and dates.

But the private banks didn’t respond positively in this regard, said the senior commerce secretary.

Following such lackluster response from the private banks, the secretary sent the second letter to the central bank.

Ghosh said he requested the BB to provide dollars to four state-owned banks — Sonali, Janata, Agrani and Rupali — to enable them import the six essentials smoothly.

Bangladesh’s foreign currency reserves have dropped sharply amid a surge in import bills fuelled by escalated commodity prices owing to the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.

The country’s reserves stood at $32.47 billion on January 18 in contrast to $45.20 billion the year before, according to BB data.

In a recent paper, the commerce ministry said the opening of LCs for the import of unrefined sugar slumped to 28 per cent year-on-year to 3.75 lakh tonnes in the last quarter of 2022. In the case of chickpeas, it dropped 47 per cent to 75,319 tonnes and dates 30 per cent to 21,980 tonnes during the corresponding period.

Contacted, Md Mezbaul Haque, spokesperson of the central bank, said Bangladesh Bank received the commerce ministry’s letter.

“We have already taken appropriate measures to address the issue,” he said.

Meanwhile, negotiation is underway to secure $500 million to $1 billion in loans from external sources under an arrangement backed by the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (Miga), a World Bank’s cross-border investment platform.

Senior Secretary Ghosh said it might take some time to receive the fund from the Miga.

“Ramadan is knocking on the door. So, it would not be wise to wait for the fund from the Miga,” he said.