EGYPT – As Egypt initiates a three-month ban on onion exports to address surging prices, importers are calling for broader measures to control costs, including extending export bans to other essential items and cracking down on hoarding.

The ban, which was initially scheduled to commence last week but was postponed to honour prior export agreements, is viewed positively by importers who believe it should be applied to goods like tomatoes, potatoes, and beans, which have also seen significant price increases.

Ahmed Sheha, a member of the importer’s division at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the importance of monitoring the market for unethical practices.

While the ban on onion exports is a positive step, he cautioned that some vendors may resort to hoarding onions to release them at higher prices after the ban concludes.

Sheha suggested that the government consider extending the ban and implementing measures to prevent price manipulation.

In September, onion prices in Egypt reached US$1.13 per kilogram in certain local markets, representing a 106% increase from US$0.55 the previous month and an astounding 1,328% surge from US$0.079 a year ago. Onions have traditionally been an affordable and essential vegetable in Egyptian cuisine.

According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Egypt’s onion exports rose by 95.9% to US$129.3 million during the first six months of 2023, compared to US$66 million in the same period the previous year.

In August, food and beverage prices in Egypt saw a monthly inflation rate of 2.2%, with vegetable prices experiencing a more substantial increase of 24.4% in August compared to 5.5% the prior month.

Year-on-year, food and beverage prices surged by 71.9%, while housing and restaurant services increased by 49.5% annually.

As Egypt grapples with rising food prices, the government’s measures to restrict exports of essential goods are seen as vital in managing domestic inflation and ensuring food security for its citizens.

According to data from the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, Egypt’s major agricultural exports to the world are potatoes, cotton, and fresh fruit, primarily citrus. 

Most of Egypt’s exports are destined for the EU, Russia, North Africa and the Middle East.  In 2018, Egyptian exports of food and agriculture products to the United States reached a record $151 million, up 19 percent or growing by $24.5 million compared to 2017. 

Main exports to the United States included processed fruit and vegetables, spices, essential oils, and herbs.