Rice import has been increasing for last two weeks amid its persisting higher price in the domestic market and decline in prices in neighbouring India, said sector insiders.
Even after paying 25 per cent customs duty, private importers are making profits by importing two specific rice varieties from India, they added.
The food ministry data showed that private rice millers so far brought over 54,000 tonnes of rice in the current financial year (FY'17) of which 14,000 tonnes entered just in last 15 days.
The rate of rice import was 160-172 tonnes a day earlier which increased to 900-1,000 tonnes in March, said a food ministry official.
L/C (letter of credit) has been opened to bring another 43,000 tonnes of rice, he added.
Rajib Kumar, a Dinajpur-based importer, told the FE that Brri dhan-28 is now selling at Tk 43-43.5 a kilogram at local mill gates.
He said import cost (including 25 per cent customs duty) of the same variety, known as Ratna in West Bengal, India ranges between Tk 41 and Tk 42 a kg. He said the difference between the prices in India and Bangladesh is encouraging imports.
Lalit Saha, another importer, said prices of Swarna and Ratna declined to some extent in India in February last.
He said finer Swarna was selling at Tk 36-36.5 a kg at mill gates in Bangladesh, but its import cost was Tk 34.0-Tk 34.5.
However, he informed the FE that most of the L/Cs have been opened between February and the first week of March when prices of Swarna and Brridhan-28 were US$ 343- 360 a tonne in India.
The government imposed 25 per cent customs duty at the very beginning in FY'17 following paddy price debacle during harvesting periods which caused huge losses to the farmers. After imposition of import duty, rice prices in Bangladesh started rising.
The price hike of different varieties of rice ranged between 7 per cent and 23 per cent in last seven months, according to Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB).
Coarse rice Swarna is now selling at Tk 37-Tk 40 while medium quality Brridhan 28 and Paijam at Tk 45-Tk 48 and finer variety Miniket, Jeerashail and Najirshail at Tk 48-Tk 58 a kg in the country.
Md Hazrat Ali, a Nilphamari-based trader, said import of Brridhan-28 will continue until the beginning of local Boro harvesting from next month.
The mills face a supply shortage of Brridhan-28, the most-consumed rice variety which grows during the Boro season.
He also pointed out that many big stockists who have a huge stock of Swarna paddy are now making hefty profits.
According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), Brridhan-28 accounts for nearly 44 per cent while Swarna accounts for over 24 per cent of the country's total rice output.
Secretary of Bangladesh Auto Major Husking Mill Owners Association K M Layek Ali said paddy prices were much higher from last Aman season which benefited the farmers.
The prices of rice will come down to some extent from May with starting of the harvesting season, he said, adding that the existing customs duty should remain in force to protect the local rice industry.
The government should strengthen monitoring so that no one can bring animal food in the name of rice for human consumption, he said. The government has now a stock of nearly 0.64 million tonnes of rice which was 1.06 million tonnes in the corresponding period last year.
Bangladesh produced over 34.57 million tonnes of rice in FY'16 against a demand for 31.0 million tonnes, according to BBS and Directorate General of Food (DGoF).