Sunday, February 25, 2024

Quizzical export

Hilsa Tk 900/kg at market, Tk 480/kg for export
Hilsa has increasingly become elusive and is beyond reach of the common people for its high prices, but it was being exported to India for less than half the local market price before a ban was slapped on its overseas sales on Tuesday.
The exporting price of hilsa to India is $6 or Tk 480 a kg, the minimum price fixed by the government. However, at any local retail market, the fish sells for Tk 900 to Tk 1,000 per kg.
This way, Bangladesh is losing a huge amount of foreign currency. In last one month alone, the loss was estimated to be around Tk 10 crore, said sources at Benapole land port.
Aminul Islam, inspector of Benapole Fish Inspection & Quality Control Centre, the office overseeing fish export and its quality, said 202 metric tonnes of hilsa was exported to India in July this year. The export quantity and the price were the same in the same period last year.
The exporters usually send hilsa weighing between 700 and 900 gram, he added.
In fiscal year 2011-2012, as many as 4,494 metric tons of hilsa worth about Tk 215 crore was exported to India through Benapole for Tk 480 per kg.
In Bangladesh, fishermen are allowed to catch hilsa only between July and December. The country produced 3.40 lakh tonnes of hilsa in 2010-11. Of them, over 8,500 tonnes of the fish worth Tk 352 crore was exported, according to the Fish Department.
India is the biggest export destination for the hugely popular Bangladeshi fish.
A Bangladesh Bank official seeking anonymity said he suspects under-invoicing — a common practice among a section of exporters. The official also suspects the black money generated through under-invoicing makes for smuggling and money laundering.
“How can a businessman opt for less than half the price and export an item when he can earn more than double without going through any hassles of exporting?” asked the official.
Dejen Das, accountant of MU Sea Food in Jessore, one of the leading hilsa exporters, said they were exporting hilsa weighing below 500 gram.
“So we can still make profit by exporting the fish at Tk 480,” said Dejen, trying to justify the anomaly.
Sheikh Abbus Raj, owner of Saint Martin Fish at Jessore Boro Bazar, said hilsa weighing between 500 and 600 gram sells for Tk 800 a kg.
Shah Alam, deputy general manager of Foreign Import Policy Department of Bangladesh Bank, Khulna Branch, declined to comment.
Businessmen also question the export of hilsa to India at such a low price when the local demand is so high.
“There is no need to export hilsa at such low prices, because such prices do not bring enough foreign currency,” said Abu Bakar Siddique, president of Jatrabari Fish Wholesalers Market, the country’s biggest fish market.
The government has banned the export of hilsa during the holy month of Ramadan. Siddique said although a ban is in force, hilsa would still be available in the markets in West Bengal, where a huge amount of fish is smuggled from Bangladesh.
“Nonetheless, the ban should be in place all the time,” he told The Daily Star yesterday, adding that he would arrange a press conference in the capital tomorrow to urge the government to continue the ban on hilsa export.
Siddique said they sold four hilsa, each weighing 500 gram, for Tk 1,200 and four with weight ranging between 800 gram and 900 gram for Tk 3,000 in the wholesale market.
“The retailers sell the fish at three times the wholesale price. Why should we sell hilsa at such low prices when there is a huge demand in the local market?” he asked.
Meanwhile, reports from India said the ban may trigger a diplomatic feud as fish lovers in Kolkata and the rest of West Bengal have been banking on the hilsa of the Padma river this year following an extremely poor catch in the state.
Hilsa catch in the West Bengal nosedived from 60,000 tonnes in 2010-11 to 18,000 tonnes in 2011-12. This year, the catch has dropped further and may not even reach 8,000 tonnes, said The Times of India on Thursday, quoting sources.

Courtesy of The Daily Star

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