Bangladesh sets aside rift with Myanmar to ease rice shortage


Bangladesh is to buy rice from Myanmar, putting aside worsening relations over the Rohingya refugee crisis as the government races to overcome a shortage of the country's staple food. Normally the world's fourth biggest rice producer, Bangladesh has become a major importer this year after floods hit its crops, sending domestic rice prices to record highs. The government has already secured deals to buy rice from Vietnam and Cambodia as domestic stocks diminished.

"We'll buy 100,000 tonnes of white rice from Myanmar at US$442 a tonne," its food minister, Qamrul Islam, said on Monday. "It will take some time to complete formalities. Then shipment will start," he told reporters. Rice is a staple food for Bangladesh's 160 million people and high prices pose a problem for the government which faces a national election next year. The deal with Myanmar is the first state-to-state rice deal between the two countries, and comes amid increasingly strained relations.

More than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing a military offensive in Myanmar have crossed into Bangladesh since Aug. 25. Bangladesh has said all refugees must go home and has also accused Myanmar of repeatedly violating its air space, warning that any more "provocative acts" could have "unwarranted consequences". Bangladesh recently finalised a deal to import 250,000 tonnes of white rice at US$453 a tonne from Cambodia, following a comparatively cheaper deal with Vietnam. It is also engaged in a second round of discussions with Thailand for rice after its initial talks with Bangkok, and India, suffered a setback over high prices.

High demand from Bangladesh could further lift Asian rice prices, which hit multi-year highs in recent months after Bangladesh and other countries in South Asia saw their worst monsoon floods in years. Bangladesh seeks to import 1.5 million tonnes of rice in the year to next June. The government also started selling rice at a subsidised rate on Sunday and last month cut a duty on imports of the grain for the second time in two months. However, prices of rice have not budged, a situation largely blamed on hoarding by middlemen.

National police chief A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque said on Monday that tough action would be taken against those found hoarding rice in order to later make windfall profits. Bangladesh produces around 34 million tonnes of rice annually but uses almost all its production to feed its population, and often requires imports to cope with shortages caused by floods or droughts.


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