Govt to fix prices of commodities

The government is going to fix the prices of several commodities, including rice, lentil and flour, to check price manipulation by unscrupulous traders in the local market.

Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission (BTTC) will determine fair prices of rice, lentil, flour, atta and onion as well as mild steel products and cement within 15 days, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said yesterday.

The BTTC now fixes the prices of edible oil and sugar after periodic market reviews. It will follow the same pricing method for the seven commodities, he told reporters after a meeting with businesspeople at the Secretariat.

“Legal action will be taken if anyone charges more than the fixed prices.”

The Directorate of National Consumers Rights Protection, and Bangladesh Competition Commission will not only fine the culprits, but also sue them, he said.

“If the market monitoring authorities only slap fines, the unscrupulous traders will again engage in price manipulation after paying the fines … The officials will now file cases against them.”

The prices of some commodities increased recently in the local market following the rise in their prices in the international market, fuel price hike and depreciation of the taka against the US dollar,  Munshi mentioned.

Though the prices of some goods have come down in the global market, the people here are yet to get any benefit because a section of unscrupulous traders is manipulating the local market, he added.

Businesspeople expressed guarded optimism about the government move, saying the pricing method may not be realistic for commodities like rice.

Mostofa Azad Chowdhury Babu, senior vice-president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), said, “The government can intervene in the market when a section of businesspeople manipulates the prices and tries to make a quick buck, taking advantage of the situation.”

Such intervention at a time of abnormal price spiral is a normal practice, but it will be difficult to fix prices of some commodities, he told The Daily Star over phone after the meeting.

He pointed out that it’s easier to fix the prices of imported goods such as edible oil and sugar as the government has the data on production, import and marketing costs of those.

“But it is tough to fix the prices of rice because of wide varieties of the staple and the fact that the government does not have the exact data on its production and stock,” added Mostofa.

Echoing his words, Rizwan Rahman, president of Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), said it will be beneficial for the people if the government fixes the prices of basic commodities.

“But it will be very challenging,” he said.

However, Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said the government move will not yield any positive results, rather it will make the market more volatile.

“And it’s not logical.”

He said there is a lack of reliable data on production and stock of basic commodities. “The move may backfire and could lead to a supply crunch …”

Instead, the government should strengthen market monitoring to keep the prices of basic commodities stable, he added.

Contacted, Tapan Kanti Ghosh, senior secretary at the commerce ministry, said they will soon sit with the ministries of food and agriculture to fix the rice price because they alone cannot do it.

Admitting that it’ll be difficult to fix the rice price, he said they will find a way upon consultation with the ministries concerned and other stakeholders.

“It may take more than 15 days.”

Tapan further said “The Control of Essential Commodities Act, 1956” empowered the government to intervene in the market in times of crisis.

“There is no legal bar to intervening in the market for the sake of consumers,” he added.

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