The coronavirus outbreak in China is taking a toll on Bangladeshi consumers because traders have increased prices of some essential commodities that are imported from the world's second largest economy.
Some traders at Khatunganj, the country's biggest wholesale hub for commodities, are hoarding goods sensing that prices will go up further and they can then cash in on the situation.
"I bought a kilogram of garlic for Tk170 from Karwan Bazar yesterday, up from Tk140 two weeks ago," said Sabbir Ahmed, a resident of the New Eskaton area of the capital.
The price hike is also evident in the market price list of the state-owned Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB).
According to the TCB, garlic was sold for Tk140-180 per kg depending on quality on the first day of January. Exactly one month later, the price shot up to Tk140-220, meaning that the upper range went up by Tk 40 a kg.
The price of ginger, which is also imported from China, also increased by Tk10-20 per kg in recent days at retail markets, TCB data shows.
Wholesalers at Khatunganj, the largest entry point for imported goods, hiked prices of garlic and ginger recently. Over the course of just one week, the price of Chinese garlic increased by Tk 40 per kg, and is now selling for Tk160 per kg at the biggest wholesale hub for commodities. The price of ginger has also increased by Tk 20, and is presently selling for Tk 120.
Several traders told The Business Standard that China had announced a government holiday from January 20 to mark the Lunar New Year. Chinese traders have stopped booking shipment of goods till February 10 because of the occasion.
Khatunganj traders have expressed serious concern over the possibility of not being able to import goods from China because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Bangladesh imports most of its industrial raw material from China. Consumer goods such as wheat, pulse, garlic and ginger, chemical goods including washing powder, bleaching powder and surgical items for medical use are imported from China.
Abul Bashar Chowdhury, owner of the BSM Group, which is one of the largest commodity importers of Bangladesh, told The Business Standard that transactions have dropped over the past one week and the market has become unstable.
"The coronavirus outbreak in China has started to impact the consumer goods market here. We don't see any immediate crisis, but businessmen have hiked prices because of concern over import complications in the future."
Commenting on the issue, Taj Chemical's owner Mahbubul Alam said, "I used to sell surgical items for a minimal profit. But now I am hoarding them to make a hefty sum of money."
Mohammad Idris, general secretary of the Khatunganj Hamid Ullah Market's Traders' Welfare Association, said, "Traders have started hoarding Chinese goods over concern that imports will stop. The prices of these goods have increased."
Ahsanul Haque Chowdhury, chairman of the Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association, said, "Ships that received clearance before January 20 are arriving on schedule. The coronavirus outbreak has not yet impacted shipments.
"However, we do not have a clue what will happen after February 10."
Meanwhile, President Mahbubul Alam of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry told The Business Standard, "If we cannot import from China, we will have to look for alternatives. But this process will take time.
"There is a possibility that this crisis will have a lasting impact on the local market."