EYE-WATERING: Ban on onion exports sends prices surging

The price of onions in India recently surged to its highest in almost six years, prompting a nationwide ban on exports

Extended monsoons in Asia’s largest onion supplier have shrunk supplies and sent prices surging across continent.

That’s because India, the world’s biggest seller of the Asian diet staple, has banned exports after extended monsoon downpours delayed harvests and supplies shrivelled and prices doubled.


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Whether it is Pakistani chicken curry, Bangladeshi biryani or Indian sambar, Asian consumers have developed a serious dependence on Indian onion supplies for go-to dishes. Shorter shipment times than from rival exporters such as China or Egypt play a crucial role in preserving the taste of the perishable commodity.

But now New Delhi has banned all exports from India after local prices jumped to 4,500 rupees ($63.30) per 100kg (220.5lbs), their highest in nearly six years, due to the delay in summer-sown crop arrivals triggered by longer, heavier rains than usual.

Since the ban, countries such as Bangladesh have turned to the likes of Myanmar, Egypt, Turkey and China to increase supplies in a bid to bring prices down, government officials and traders said.

But the hefty volumes lost will be hard to replace.

India exported 2.2 million tonnes of fresh onions in the 2018/19 fiscal year ended March 31, according to data from India’s Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority. That is more than half of all imports by Asian countries, traders estimate.

Rising prices of alternative supplies will add to the headache for importers trying to get the vegetable from elsewhere, said Mohammad Idris, a trader based in Dhaka.

In the Bangladesh capital, consumers are now being asked to pay twice the price two weeks ago and the highest since December 2013.

But the shipments from elsewhere – Iran and Turkey are also potential suppliers – that authorities in countries across the region are investigating will all take time.

For other countries, there may be little option but to sit tight and hope for the best.


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