PAKISTAN is estimated to have around 297bn tonnes of marble and granite reserves, mainly in the remote areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Fata, Balochistan and rural Sindh.

Onyx, a rare marble, is abundant in the Chagai district of Balochistan; its dark green variety is found in five countries only. Its reserves are estimated at 34m cubic metres.

Over 1,400 quarries and 3,000 processing units are operational in the country, employing about 30,000 workers.

Despite many constraints faced by the industry, the sharp increase in its exports during the last decade shows its high potential for earning foreign exchange

Pakistani dimension stones have immense decorative and functional value and exotic appearances.

Pakistan is the 6th largest mineral extractor of marble and granite in the world. In spite of the huge size of the deposits and the long-term export potential, the country’s annual production of such stones has stagnated at around 2.5m tonnes, which contributes merely 2pc to the global market.

The major obstacles in the expansion of the mining industry are the persistent electricity blackouts, outdated quarrying techniques, inconsistent supplies of raw materials, a dearth of value-addition, poor law and order conditions, and a lack of infrastructure in areas where quarries and processing units are located.

The government needs to take steps to promote the stone industry by streamlining and modernising it for processing blocks and slabs by cutting, sizing, polishing and inlay-designing.

Despite the many constraints faced by the industry, the sharp increase in its exports during the last decade shows its high potential for earning foreign exchange.

China accounts for 60pc of Pakistan’s total marble exports. China and Italy purchase raw products like slabs and blocks and re-export value-added items like mosaic work, inlay designs and tiles around the world, including to Pakistan.

Russia and the US, as well as Middle Eastern and European countries demand finished marble products, and thus constitute less than 10pc of our export. Saudi Arabia alone imports marble products worth $1,500m. This indicates the dire need for developing technology to capture value-added export markets.

Some suggestions are given below to help the country realise its potential as a ‘stone exporter’.

• Upgrade operational and abandoned quarries and processing units. Locally manufactured machinery has been employed in hundreds of processing units that need to be upgraded and modernised to meet international quality standards.

Likewise, handling, cutting, storing and transportation must be significantly improved. Production volumes must be expanded to match the availability of exploitable reserves in line with market demands. For instance, Pakistan has granite reserves of over 2bn tonnes; however, average annual production is limited to 6,000 tonnes only.

• Adopt state-of-the-art mining technologies, as the current blasting practices in Pakistan cause a huge loss of precious stone. Benchmarking with global quarrying performance shows that the standard wastage of marble in the world is 45pc, whereas it is 85pc here. Mine-operational performance could be improved and financial losses due to wastages minimised by introducing latest technologies.

• Develop infrastructure in areas where the stone deposits are located. The quarrying sector cannot be developed and expanded without basic infrastructural facilities such as electricity, road network and security. In fact, around 98pc of the dimension stone deposits are located in KP and Fata, which have been impacted by the war against terrorism over the last many years. The government needs to do something about this.

• Market reports indicate that Saudi Arabia is interested in Pakistani marble to build its new cities with an expenditure of around $260bn. And Italy and some other European countries want to sell their marble machinery and technology in exchange for Pakistani marble. According to the Pakistan Stone Development Company, exports of dimension stones could touch $2.5bn within a few years if sustained efforts are made to overcome bottlenecks.

• Facilitate investors to overcome power shortages; the erratic power crisis is a gigantic obstacle in attracting investments. Most of the existing dimension-stone processing units have been compelled to work on 5pc of installed capacity due to hours of load-shedding. For instance, to meet the industrial power needs, investors must be encouraged to install and maintain their own coal-power plants. Taxes and duties can be lifted or at least relaxed for importing power plants and spare parts etc.

• Introduce business-friendly laws and capacity-building initiatives. The government can help establish training centres for the workforce and provide a safe and healthy work environment. Skilled manpower could play a cutting edge role in optimising quarrying operations and processing units. And local laws for exploration and exploitation of dimension stones should supplement these efforts.

Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, July 6th, 2015

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