USDA says one of the last shipments was loaded early this month
Putting aside a rift over the Rohingya refugee crisis, Bangladesh is continuing to import rice from Myanmar, months after the country had officially put a halt on the grain import.
Two months after its cabinet purchase body kept on hold a planned import of 100,000 tons rice from Myanmar, in the wake of the military takeover in the trouble-torn Southeast Asian country, Bangladesh started importing rice under that deal in late April.
“Burma’s (Myanmar) official rice and broken rice exports in May are forecast higher with the shipping of contracted rice to Bangladesh and the depreciation of the Myanmar Kyats against the US dollar,” said a just published grain update report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
USDA report says Myanmar delivered the first shipment (11,193 tons) in late April under an agreed memorandum of understanding (MoU) to export 100,000 tons of high-quality long-grain to Bangladesh, a country that has long been hosting over a million ethnic Rohingyas who were forced out from Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
USDA says that one of the last shipments was loaded early this month as well under the MoU. But it could not provide the total volume Bangladesh, has so far, imported from Myanmar since late April.
Bangladesh’s decision in January this year to import rice from Myanmar to replenish its dried-up food reserve raised many eyebrows considering the fact that such an import deal would send a wrong message to the world when Myanmar has long been dillydallying in returning its citizens from Bangladesh and stands accused of committing “genocide” on its own population.
Then just a couple of days after a military coup in Myanmar, Bangladesh’s cabinet committee on public purchase, the highest approval body of the government, rejected the proposal placed by the Directorate General of Food to make the bulk import of rice under a government to government (G2G) agreement.
"We've turned down the proposal considering the current situation in Myanmar although an agreement was signed between the two countries," Finance Minister Mustafa Kamal told the media then.
But, it’s not clear under what conditions the food department is importing the rice from Myanmar since late April despite a deteriorating human right situation in that country.
Dhaka Tribune on Thursday tried to reach over phone Dr Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum, the food secretary, who said in January that Bangladesh would import rice under a G2G deal at $485 a ton, including cost, insurance and freight liner out basis.
“Our main priority is to bring down the prices of rice,” Khanum told media then. She did not respond to this correspondent’s call on Thursday.
But officials at her ministry said though the cabinet meeting had decided to put a halt on import initially, later the food directorate was allowed under certain conditions to import some rice from Myanmar.
A source said one of the conditions is making the payment upon receipt of the grains even though the standard practice is to pay first in the G2G arrangement.
However, the situation saw a huge change between last January (when the G2G was arranged) and now. At that time Bangladesh government had an alarmingly low food reserve in hand but now it has a comfortable food stock of 1.3 million tons in government silos.
The government claimed of having a bumper harvest in last Boro and on top of it, private and public sectors imported nearly 800,000 tons and over 500,000 tons of rice respectively in the last five months.
Bangladesh, now the world’s third-biggest rice producer with around 35 million tons annually, uses almost all its production to feed its people. It still often requires imports to cope with shortages caused by floods or droughts.