India releases onions to 3 neighbouring countries to stop Pak, China from filling breach

Bangladesh PM rued that Delhi had not informed Dhaka before stopping exports

India releases onions to 3 neighbouring countries to stop Pak, China from filling breach

Vegetable vendors sort onions at APMC market, in Navi Mumbai, on Saturday, September 19, 2020. PTI

Sandeep Dikshit

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 19

The government released onion consignments to three neighbouring countries after prices there hit the roof due to India’s abrupt decision to ban exports on September 14, sources said.

It was important to release about 30,000 quintals of onions, whose letters of credit (LCs) had been opened to ameliorate public inconvenience caused in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.

The release would also keep at bay Pakistan, Turkey and China who could have immediately filled the void. India does not enjoy good diplomatic ties with these countries and would prefer other regional actors like Thailand, Egypt, Uzbekistan or Afghanistan to step in.

Anticipating a rise in prices domestically, the government had banned onion exports on September 14 except for cut, sliced and powdered due to excessive rainfall hitting its crop in some southern states.

As a result prices have trebled in Bhutan and shown a steady rising trend that threatens to worsen in Bangladesh and Nepal. Sources said a multi-Ministry effort quarterbacked by the Ministry of External Affairs led to the release and transportation of onion consignments that were deemed to have been sold with the opening of LCs.

India has emerged as an unreliable exporter for the second year running. It had banned onions exports last year as well, impacting neighbours like Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh that are near-totally dependent on Indian onions.

As a result, Bhutan has offered seeds, subsidies, and technical assistance to local farmers to grow onion and tomatoes as an immediate measure.

About 25,000 tonnes of onion will cross the border to Bangladesh and smaller quantities are being released for Bhutan and Nepal. Last year, Chinese onions had flooded Nepal’s market as the Indian ban stayed for six months.

India is the world’s biggest exporter of onions with most of it consumed in nearby Bangladesh, Nepal, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in fact, rued that India had not informed Dhaka before stopping the exports. “I had to tell my cook I have no other option but to have my food without onions. I would request India to please inform us beforehand while taking such an action. After all, we are neighbours,” Hasina had said at a webinar at which Commerce Minister Piyush Goel was also present.

The Bangladesh Foreign Office has also reminded New Delhi that it should consider not imposing export restrictions on exports of essential food items and if it was required, India should inform Dhaka in advance.

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