KARACHI: Palm and soybean oil imports have dropped significantly as buyers have started purchasing seeds to process them locally.
Manufactures say that the move has provided a relief to the balance of trade as the reduction in imports has contributed to narrowing the trade gap. Palm oil and soybean oil imports dropped by 10.75 per cent and 87.64 per cent respectively during the first nine months (July to March) of the current fiscal year compared to the corresponding period of last year. Palm oil imports during July- March 2009-10 were worth $922.727 million against imports worth $1,033.813 million during July-March 2008-09, according to data provided by the Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS). Soybean oil imports during the period under review stood at $6.932 million against imports of $56.067 million last year, the data added.
Rasheed Jan Mohammad, a local manufacturer of edible oil, said that the import of seeds is a much cheaper option than importing two kinds of oil. He said that high price had discouraged the demand for palm oil and soybean oil, as the latter is not a popular option with the people. On monthly basis, palm oil imports surged by 31.70 per cent during March 2010 against February 2010. Palm oil imports during March stood at $140.865 million against imports of $106.362 million in February 2010. Soybean oil imports dipped by 75.26 per cent during March 2010 against February 2010.
Soybean imports during March were recorded at $166 million against imports of $671 million in February 2010. On a yearly basis, as compared to palm oil imports worth $113.526 million during March 2009, imports in March 2010 increased by 24.08 per cent. Soybean oil imports fell during March 2010 when compared to imports worth $16.857 million during the same month of last year, the figures showed. Referring to the palm seeds that the Malaysian government had donated to Pakistan, Jan Mohammad said that the Pakistan Oilseed Development Board was looking after the process and the seeds have now grown into trees. However, he said that mismanagement by the board has turned the experiment of growing seeds here into a failure.
“We do not have the required equipment to crush the fruit into final product and the trees are in a negligible state,” he said. Jan Mohammad further explained that several small-scale private refineries had been set up in recent years in the country which also opted to import palm seeds to manufacture unbranded cooking oil and ghee.