Dollar crisis halts paper raw materials import, hits printing industry hard

Due to the dollar crisis that began after the Russia-Ukraine conflict, paper mill owners have been unable to import raw materials. This has created a severe crisis and risen prices for paper, which is a critical item in many industries, including publishing, education, and newspaper.

The distribution of textbooks free of charge to all students in primary and secondary schools has been hampered by uncertainty. One, publishers cannot publish enough books. On the other hand, buyers will have to pay three times as much for education material (books and notes).

The soaring prices of paper are also causing losses in the daily newspaper industry. This industry has been in turmoil since the Covid-19 pandemic. As publishers fail to publish the normal number of books, uncertainty is looming over the Ekushey book fair.   

According to the Printing Industries Association of Bangladesh, (PIAB), printing and publishing are at the heart of books, garment accessories and medicine, as well as food accessories and other businesses.

The total number of printing presses is 2,500 for books, 2,000 to print garment accessories, 500 for food service, and 500 for serving multiple businesses.

According to sources from Textbook Printing and Marketing Association, the country uses approximately 8 lakh tonnes of paper each year. Native mills companies are responsible for the largest portion of the annual demand, while papers from other countries are also produced. The raw materials required to make papers, however, must be imported.

Mill owners are unsure when the crisis will end. They believe that government action can help.

The president of Textbook Printing and Marketing Association Tofayel Khan told The Business Standard there was a shortage of raw materials, including pulp, which is making it difficult for mills to produce enough paper, leading to higher prices. 

We cannot import the papers, and mill owners can’t import raw materials. How can these problems be solved? He asked.

He said, “The government should permit us to import duty-free papers and to open LC for the transportation of raw materials.”

Shahid Serniabat (PIAB president) said that printers could not have imagined facing such a crisis.

“The banks have not opened LCs. The price per tonne for the daily papers was Tk60,000 a month ago. Monirul Islam Mamun (leader of Bangladesh Paper Merchants Association, BPMA) stated that the current price is now at Tk90,000. He added that paper is not being delivered to them even though they have paid in advance.

TBS was told by Abul Hashed Milki (Marketing Manager at Al-Noor Paper Mills) that their production has fallen to nearly half because of the shortage of raw materials. The prices for other materials have risen in the country at the same time.

“Actually, we are seeing the overall crisis worsening every day. He said that education will suffer from rising prices for all types of materials.

TBS was informed by Dr Dipu Moni, Education Minister, that they are trying to find a way to import paper and raw materials to solve the paper crisis.

Printers stated that white print papers were being sold at Tk1.30 crore per tonne, while newsprint paper was at Tk75,000. This is compared to Tk90,000/Tk60,000 six months ago.

Co-curricular books hit by paper crisis

According to sources from PIAB, Bangladesh Pushtak Prokashok Bikreta Samity (Bangladesh Pushtak Prokashok Bikreta Samity), they sold 40 million copies of cocurricular books in the course of the year. Each year, their printing process ends in December. This year, however, they are still waiting for the availability of paper and the reduction in prices.

TBS was informed by Shaymol Pal (Vice-President of Bangladesh Pushtak Prokashok Bikreta Saity), that co-curricular books prices will rise at least three times if printed now. Every day, the prices of paper and other materials are rising. There is nothing we can do except stop selling and printing paper.

 “We have more than 1.5 lakh employees and around 26,000 members. Many staff members have already lost their jobs. “The owners are counting losses each day,” he stated.

Printing creative books can pose problems

Every year, 4000-5000 books are added to the Ekushey Book Fair. However, the creative book publishers are yet to take initiative. If the prices drop, they plan to publish some books in January.

Monirul Haque is the owner of Ananyaprakashani and executive Director of Bangladesh Gyan Ol Prokashak Samity. He stated to TBS that they plan to publish 20% of all new books next January and that prices will be high.

“We are in a very risky situation as printing new books is expensive. We have to calculate losses if book enthusiasts don’t buy books from the fair next February. He said that we aren’t ready to add more losses to our losses from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Uncertainty about free textbooks at the right time

The upazilas receive approximately one-third of all new textbooks each year by mid-October. It didn’t happen this time.

According to the printers, they only printed 5 crore books from 35 crores of books until Thursday. They claimed that it was impossible for them to distribute textbooks at the right time.

According to the National Curriculum and Textbook Board for 2023, 34.62 million books will be printed. They include 9.99 crores of books for pre-primary, primary and secondary students and 24.63 billions for students at the secondary level.

Nearly 4 crore students are enrolled in around 2,00,000.