Pressure builds on govt to open trade with India

Cabinet okays bringing in tomatoes, onions without duties and taxes from Iran, Afghanistan

Our Correspondent August 31, 2022
Miftah Ismail. PHOTO: PID


As the recent floods and rains have ravaged crops around the country, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail on Wednesday said the government would consider if the country could bring in vegetables from India whereas the federal cabinet has approved the import of tomatoes and onions without duties and taxes from Iran and Afghanistan.

“More than one international agency has approached the govt to allow them to bring food items from India through the land border,” Miftah tweeted.

“The govt will take the decision to allow imports or not based on supply shortage position, after consulting its coalition partners & key stakeholders,” he added.

In response, PML-N leader Mohammad Zubair tweeted that not importing at cheaper rates within a short timeframe would be “criminal”.

He added that the country desperately needed essential food items.

“Like we say, we can deal with politics later — this time international politics,” the ex-governor of Sindh further wrote.

The Senate Standing Committee on Commerce also discussed the matter.

Read: Food crisis feared in Sindh

Senator Palwasha Khan pointed out that the finance minister was saying that the government was being proposed to import onions and tomatoes from India. She asked whether or not the commerce ministry was considering this proposal.

In response, Commerce Minister Syed Naveed Qamar said there was pressure in the market due to the increase in the prices of vegetables. “To stabilise the prices, imports from two countries have been allowed.  There will be tax exemption for the import of tomatoes and onions,” he added.

On the federal cabinet’s decision to delay import from India for now, the minister echoed the views of Miftah, saying the matter would be decided after taking all stakeholders on board.

“It also remains to be seen what the impact will be on our foreign policy,” the minister added.

Qamar further said the floods had caused a lot of damage to the agricultural sector.

“In the coming months we may face more problems with agricultural products,” he warned.

He added that standing crops had been damaged by the floods.

He explained that new crops could not be cultivated due to the standing water.

He conceded that the prices of vegetables were increasing in the market.

The commerce secretary told the panel that the government would import potatoes for strategic reserves.

The tax exemption on onions and tomatoes by the cabinet from Iran and Afghanistan would be till December 31 this year.

Unusually heavy monsoon rains have triggered floods that have submerged a third of the country and killed more than 1,100 people, including 380 children.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that hundreds of thousands of acres of crops had been washed away.

“We have lost the rice crop. Fruits and vegetables have been destroyed,” he told reporters after his trip to the flooded areas in the north.

The country has received nearly 190% more rain than the 30-year average in the quarter through August this year, totalling 390.7 millimetres (15.38 inches).

Sindh province in the south, with a population of 50 million, was hardest hit, receiving 466% more rain than the 30-year average.

Resulting flash floods have swept away homes, businesses, infrastructure and crops.

The government says 33 million people, or 15% of the 220 million-strong South Asian nation, have been affected.

Army helicopters have been busy plucking stranded families from rooftops and patches of dry land and dropping food in inaccessible areas.

(With input from Reuters)


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