KARACHI: For the second year in a row, Pakistan is struggling to avoid a possible ban on its fresh food exports to the European Union and looking for ways to find a permanent solution to the problem.
Last year, when the EU slapped a ban on the import of a few Indian fruits and vegetables because of the presence of flies, it also extended warnings to Pakistan on similar grounds.
Following the threat, the government of Pakistan did well in continuing exports to the EU and avoided a blanket ban by putting in place different quality checks.
Read: Awareness campaign: Drive launched to better mango quality, yield
However, during the ongoing mango season, Pakistan’s three consignments have been intercepted in Europe. Two more interceptions and the country may face a ban on exports to the EU.
Pakistan exported about 91,700 tons of mangoes during the fruit season in 2014 compared to 102,000 tons in 2013. The share of the EU market is about 5% in total mango exports but it is highly lucrative.
Despite the decline in exports, exporters and growers earned more than double the amount they fetched in 2013 because of the stringent quality standards applied by the government for exports to the EU in the 2014 season.
Resultantly, the interceptions in Europe dropped sharply from 236 consignments in 2013 to just three in 2014.
However, there are growing fears among mango exporters that any leniency on the part of the government can create huge problems.
In case of a ban, Pakistan may lose millions of dollars every year and will have to wait for years to get it removed. Moreover, it will also cause harm to the export of other products to the EU - one of the largest trading partners of Pakistan.
Industry officials and government departments responsible to examine the quality of export consignments say the situation will not improve unless investment is made at the farm level - the first stage where fruits and vegetables are contaminated.
Last year, the Department of Plant Protection (DPP) - one of the 14 organisations working under the Ministry of National Food Security and Research responsible for providing all-encompassing quarantine facilities to fruit and vegetable growers - made hot water treatment compulsory for all exports to the EU. Such treatment can reduce the threat of fruit flies but it cannot guarantee complete elimination.
Though the initiative helped the government in avoiding an immediate ban, it only treated symptoms and not the root causes of the infestation.
Read: Pakistan’s mango exports denied Dutch visa
Exporters say the governments of Punjab and Sindh - the two main mango producing provinces - are doing very little to improve the situation at the farm level. The government of Punjab has recently taken some steps in the right direction but Sindh still lags behind.
DPP officials need to further tighten the rules so that quality fruits and vegetables can be exported not only to the EU but also to other high-end markets.
Last year’s systemic improvement reflects the fact that the role of government is crucial in forcing the stakeholders to adopt modern practices.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2015.
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