Bangladesh to cut duty on rice imports to cool record local prices

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh will slash the duty on rice imports in an effort to bolster reserves and cool record prices of the staple grain in the country, the food minister said on Sunday.

Workers sun dry paddy at a rice processing mill after reopening amid concerns over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Munshiganj, outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Files

The import duty on rice will be lowered to 25% from 62.5%, Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumdar told reporters.

Bangladesh, traditionally the world’s third-biggest rice producer, has emerged as a big importer of the grain lately due to depleted stocks and record local prices after repeated flooding ravaged its crop.

The country produces around 35 million tonnes of rice annually but uses almost all its production to feed its population of more than 160 million. It often requires imports to cope with shortages caused by floods or droughts.

“We are allowing the imports in a regulated manner to ensure that consumers and farmers don’t suffer from the soaring costs of the rice,” Majumdar said.

“Importers will have to seek permission from the Food Ministry by Jan. 10. Then the ministry will decide how much they can import,” he said.

The government is rushing to build buffer stocks as it aims to import as much as 500,000 tonnes of rice in the year to June. It is finalising the purchase of 150,000 tonnes of rice from India, officials told Reuters, in what would be the first such bilateral deal in three years.

The government is also issuing a series of tenders to purchase rice in recent weeks.

The rain-fed rice output, or Aman crop, is expected to fall as much as 15% this year, due to repeated floods and excessive rainfall, a senior official at the Agriculture Ministry said.

With shortfalls, the government’s domestic rice procurement in this harvesting season could see a setback after an earlier drive to shore up supplies fell short of targets.

Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by William Mallard