Bangladesh to resume talks for Ukrainian wheat import


Infographic: TBS

Infographic: TBS

The resumption of grain exports from Ukraine and Bangladesh paying Russia an outstanding import bill have now cleared the way for procurement of wheat and other goods from both the countries.

But complexities centring import payments to Moscow persist with its banks still disconnected from SWIFT, the world’s dominant financial messaging system.

On the other hand, when it comes to importing Ukrainian grains, there is no such bar – it is possible to bring in grains from Ukraine through both government and private initiatives, according to food ministry officials and importers.

The resumption of Ukraine grain shipments is a good opportunity for Bangladesh, Food Secretary Md Ismiel Hossain told The Business Standard.

“We will resume imports from Ukraine after completing necessary discussions as soon as possible,” he noted.

As the first ship carrying Ukrainian corn safely left the Black Sea port on Monday since the war, brightening hopes and unblocking a major food corridor, options are now wide open for Bangladesh to book Ukrainian wheat as well.

Ukraine and Russia, known as global food baskets, together are the biggest sources for Bangladesh. If the two-week trial time goes well, caravans of ships stuck in the Black Sea with millions of tonnes of food grains are expected to begin moving towards global destinations.

Earlier, on 22 July, Russia and Ukraine signed a grain deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations to allow exports of grain from blockaded Ukrainian ports amid a global food crisis. The deal – which took two months to reach – is set to last for 120 days.

In the meantime, Bangladesh has inched one step closer to its sourcing of wheat from Russia as it paid off an outstanding import bill of Tk12 crore, which had remained stuck over legal complexities, to the country on Monday through Sonali Bank, Food Secretary Md Ismiel Hossain noted.

“As the payment has been cleared, we can now initiate a fresh negotiation over striking a new deal for importing wheat,” he pointed out, adding that they will also have talks over determining a payment system.

Bangladesh is also trying to procure wheat from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Canada and India, he added.

Asked about the payment method, Subhash Chandra Das, chief financial officer at Sonali Bank, could not confirm through which currency the payment was made.

Meanwhile, Russia offered Bangladesh 3 lakh tonnes of wheat in June. During a visit to TBS last month, Russia’s acting ambassador to Bangladesh Ekaterina A Semenova said talks were “nearing completion” on the supply of 2 lakh tonnes of Russian grains to Bangladesh “very soon.”

She, however, mentioned some technical issues in the process, including the problem with the local banks opening letters of credit due to sanctions imposed by the West.

Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder said talks were on over removing complexities regarding payments for Russian goods.

No wheat shipments have come to Bangladesh since the Russia-Ukraine began in February this year.

In FY21, Bangladesh’s wheat procured from Ukraine stood at 23 lakh tonnes, which was a little over 17% of its total imports, while its sourcing from Russia accounted for close to 21%. And, 24% of its wheat supplies came from India in the fiscal year.

But one after another, imports from all the three sources were closed after the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, resulting in sharp spikes in prices of flour and baked food in the local market.

India’s sudden wheat export ban on 13 May raised concerns about supply of wheat to Bangladesh, which relied more on the neighbouring country after supplies from Russia and Ukraine stopped since the war.

India, however, kept the government-to-government purchase window open, paving the way for shipping some 1.5 lakh tonnes to Bangladesh till the end of June since the ban, Indian food secretary had said.

Now, things are getting better as global prices of wheat have almost plunged back to pre-war levels.

The price of a widely traded type of wheat that started the year about $7.70 per bushel jumped to $13 in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, according to futures contracts traded in Chicago, a global hub for the commodity.

The price mostly stayed in double digits until mid-June, when it began to fall. On Monday, wheat traded at a little more than $8 a bushel.

In this situation, importers say they cannot benefit from a fall in global prices because their sourcing from major markets has remained stopped and taka continues to lose its value against dollars.

According to food ministry sources, the government is now importing 1 lakh tonnes of wheat in two shipments, each having 50,000 tonnes, through two Singapore-based companies. The companies will first bring in wheat from Argentina and then will supply to Bangladesh. That is why, Bangladesh has to pay high prices – $11.9 per bushel (25 kg).

But now, it is good news that Ukraine has resumed the grain imports, which will help Bangladesh get benefits from price drops, importers say.

Md Shafiul Ather Taslim, director at Finance and Operation at TK Group, told TBS, “The major sources of wheat imports are now reopening. If no problem arises, we will be able to open LCs soon for wheat imports from Ukraine.”

 The people concerned suggest that the government take immediate import initiatives both from government and private levels to cash in on falling wheat prices in the international market.

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