Sudden ban on onion export by India makes hilsa taste sour for Bangladesh

By Gautam Lahiri

By Gautam lahiri

Sep 15, 2020

New Delhi: Just before the annual Durgapuja celebration of West Bengal, the Sheikh Hasina Government of Bangladesh has lifted the ban on hilsa fish export as a goodwill gesture. But the day the exported 1450 MT of the fish, which is a delicacy dish for Bengalis, started to reach the Kolkata market, the Union Commerce ministry has announced sudden ban of export of onions which is a basic kitchen ingradient for the people of Bangladesh.

The banning of onion export has definitely made Dhaka unhappy and the Bangladesh Government has requested India to reconsider the decision. Whether Bnagladesh Government has issued any demarche to New Delhi for this move, is not known yet. Because Bangladesh Government was not informed prior to the ban.

Apparently it seems that the External Affairs Ministry was not taken into confidence before taking this step. Only last month, Foreign Secretary Harsh Bardhan Shringla visited Dhaka and laid down a detailed roadmap for future engagement with Bangladesh, especially during the celebration of 50 years of Liberation. But now the sudden and unilateral stoppage of onion export unilatera will create bitterness. Dhaka is already upset with India for not implementing Teesta water sharing accord.

The onion ban move of the Union Government has also surprised Indian High Commission in Dhaka and sources confirmed that they were unaware of the Commerce Ministry decision. Last year at the same time, India banned the onion export when Prime Minister Hasina made a visit to New Delhi to attend a conference organised by the World Economic Forum. While addressing the Buisness community, she deviated from the written text and spoke in Hindi on onion ban. She said:

” “Pyaaz leke thoda dikkat ho gaya hamare liye. Mujhe maaloom nahi kyon aapne pyaaz band kar diya. Uske baad maine kya kiya, hamaare cook ko main bol diya ki abse pyaaz deke khaana mat pakao. Pyaaz band kar do…. thoda sa notice dene se achcha hota ki hum bhi thoda doosra jagah se laa sakte the. Achanak aapne band kar diya hamare liye mushkil ho gaya. Aage se agar… aisa kuch karna hai toh hume thoda se pehle bata dena hai.’’

(“We faced a little difficulty over onion ban. I don’t know why you stopped its exports. So what did I do, I asked my cook to stop using onions…. Had you given a little notice, it would have been good so we could also have procured from elsewhere. As you stopped the exports suddenly, it became a problem for us. In future, if you are doing something similar, do let us know early.”.)

Sources in Bangladesh mission told this correspondent that they had no communication from the Indian Government about the ban. The decision also surprised tham as onion loaded trucks were already ready to cross over the border for supply, and letter of credit has already been done with the suppliers by the importers of Bangladesh.

The Indian Directorate General of Foreign Trade Monday uploaded a notice on its website stating, “Exports of all variety of onions are prohibited with immediate effect.” The notification by the Directorate General of Foreign trade says the provisions under transitional agreement will not be applicable.

Onion prices remain more or less stable at around ₹40 per kilogram in Delhi markets. In August, wholesale and retail prices of onion at all India level fell 34.5% and 4% respectively compared to last year’s level.

While domestic onion prices remain stable, it is the spike in external demand for onions which seems to have triggered the ban on export of onions. During April-June period, onion exports to Bangladesh, India’s largest overseas market for the key kitchen ingredient, shot up 147.5% to 1.9 lakh metric tonne. Overall, onion exports grew 23% during the same period to 6.8 lakh metric tonne. Bangladesh depends heavily on Indian onions to meet its domestic demand.

Last week Union Home Minister Amit Shah chaired a group of ministers meeting and reviewed the onion stock position in the country. It was decided that Governmennt will take every measure to restrict onion trade as no crisis should arise before the Bihar election, sources said.