KARACHI: “Foreign investors, as well as Pakistanis, should visit this furniture exhibition and witness the quality of work produced by Pakistani manufacturers,” Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon said while inaugurating a five-day furniture show at the Sheraton Hotel on Wednesday. The exhibition showcases the latest work of the country’s 28 leading furniture manufactures, most of them exporters.
Given that the minister was flooded with political questions from broadcast journalists during the press briefing, he eventually managed to get rid of the crowd for a minute to answer one question – why in his opinion would foreign investors ever visit Karachi when the Sindh government has failed to make it safe for them? The minister, who listened to the query attentively, thereafter walked into one of the stalls without a word. It was unclear whether he did not want to answer, or did not have one.
Memon may not have considered it worth his time to answer the question, but lack of security for foreign buyers and investors is arguably one of the major factors that have hurt furniture exports over the last few years.
Pakistani furniture manufacturers and exporters earned between $25 million and $30 million in 2009-2010, says Turhan Baig Mohammad, founder of the All Pakistan Furniture Exporters Association – the lobby that organised the event. This figure does not include undocumented furniture exports, which, according to Mohammad, were somewhere in excess of $10 million.
“These exports can improve manifold if foreigners visit Pakistani furniture manufactures – something which is not happening at the moment,” Mohammad told The Express Tribune on the sidelines of the exhibition.
Mohammad said he does not have the latest figures, but according to the statistics of the World Trade Organization, Pakistan exported wooden furniture amounting to $51 million in 2011. Made-in-Pakistan furniture is shipped to almost every important market, including the United States, the UK, the Middle East, Japan and China, said Mohammad.
“There are only a few exporters who can afford to attend international furniture exhibitions,” said Mohammad. “They are able to get orders and expand their business.” On the other hand, a majority of furniture manufacturers do not get exposure to foreign markets, while foreigners are also reluctant to visit the country – meaning that a large potential market remains unsupplied.
“Our handmade furniture is in high demand by high-end customers,” explained Mohammad. “Pakistani manufacturers have expertise in this area, while the type of wood used – ‘sheesham’ (rosewood) in particular – adds to the demand.”
Besides manufacturers’ limited exposure to foreign buyers, a mindset that says catering to the local market alone provides massive returns for businesses another hurdle in increasing exports, Mohammad complained. “Some young blood has come into this industry, however,” he said, “and expanded their family business internationally. We need to change the old mindset if we want to increase our exports.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2013.
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