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HindustanTimes Thu,18 Sep 2014

Bangla onion tears check Bengal's hilsa fears

Ravik Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times  Kolkata, August 20, 2013
First Published: 15:03 IST(20/8/2013) | Last Updated: 15:08 IST(20/8/2013)

Call it ‘gastronomic revenge’.
 
Two years after Bangladesh banned hilsa exports to India citing domestic demand, India finally got an opportunity to get even.
 
On Monday traders stopped exporting onions to Dhaka citing the same reason, literally bringing tears in the eyes of Bangladeshis.
 
A trade war has started between India (read Bengal) and Bangladesh, with traders refusing to send onions to Bangladesh — a country dependent upon the Indian version of the vegetable — since prices have soared in the domestic market, making it more attractive to sell the commodity in India.
 
On Monday, suggestions of any onion exports to Bangladesh resuming elicited angry reactions of hilsa revenge from traders and exporters at Petrapole (land port about 50 kms from Kolkata) and Kolkata.
 
“There’s no point in exporting onions to Bangladesh, because there’s a high domestic demand and the government has fixed the minimum price. Moreover, why do you forget the hilsa experience? The Bangladesh government cited a similar situation to ban its exports. For the past few hilsa seasons, we’ve forgotten the taste of the ‘Queen of the Padma’, an eternal Bengali delicacy,” Pankaj Roy, member, Bharat-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and member of the land port sub-committee, told HT on Monday.
 
The love of Bengalis for hilsa is more widespread than the love for poetry, or adda. And the hilsa from Padma river in Bangladesh is regarded as the choicest delicacy in most Bengali homes.
 
In 2007, the Dhaka government stipulated that no one could sell hilsa weighing between 500gm to a kilogram below $6. If the weight was between 1kg and 1.5kg, the minimum price was $8 and, for fish weighing more than 1.5kg, the floor price was $12.

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In July 2012, the country banned exports to India citing high demand of the fish during Ramzan. The ban is still in force.
 
The repercussions on the Kolkata markets were immediate.

While the price of the hilsa shot up in 2007, availability of the coveted fish (the Bangladeshi variety) became almost zero.
 
Almost in a similar rebuff, the Indian government has cited domestic demand to fix the minimum price of onion exports at $650 a ton.

The earlier price, even a month ago, was between $400 and $450. The notification was issued by the director-general of foreign trade on August 14.
 
“The government has fixed the export rate. We can’t sell at a lower price. With some exporters, it’s also likely that truckloads of onions are stranded at various land ports. They’ll rot within three to four days. So, exporters are being forced to sell it in the domestic market. Earlier, more than 1,000 tons to 1,500 tons of onions were exported to Bangladesh each day. The current figure is a mere 5% of that,” Debasish Saha of Krishna Traders, one of the biggest exporters of onions, said.
 
Importers and traders in Bangladesh are up in arms against the near stoppage of the inflow of the crucial ingredient and blamed Indian exporters for selling onions in Bengal markets.
 
“Even yesterday, large shipments of onions were waiting at Indian land ports to enter Bangladesh, but those were taken back and sold in the local (Indian) markets at higher prices,” Khandaker Babul, general secretary of the Dhaka Mohanagar Krishiponno Amdanikarok Association, a platform of perishable goods importers, was quoted as saying by the Bangladeshi media at a Dhaka press conference.
 
“Now, Indian exporters are putting pressure on Bangladeshi traders to hike the prices,” said Helal Uddin, vice-president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Dhaka’s now looking to Mynamar for onions.
 
Interestingly, some time ago, Indian importers too explored the possibility of getting hilsa from Myanmar.


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