ISLAMABAD: After a delay of more than a month, the government has finally reached a decision to explore avenues including import of tomatoes from Iran to arrest the skyrocketing prices of the vegetable in the domestic market.
The combination of ill-timed government policies and bad weather caused disruption in supply of tomatoes — a kitchen staple — across the country since early October. Tomato prices in the region have shot up due to heavy rains last month.
The average maximum national price of tomatoes was Rs180 per kg, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics; though it is selling at as high as Rs300 per kg in several parts of the country.
As the situation spirals out of control, the Ministry of National Food Security (MNFS) is meeting importers on Wednesday in Islamabad to look into ways of speeding up imports tomatoes from neighbor countries.
“We will consider allowing import of tomatoes from Iran,” MNFS Federal Secretary Muhammad Hashim Popalzai told Dawn. He said some importers are coming to meet him in this regard. “We will think over it and make a decision in the meeting,” Popalzai added.
It is estimated that new crop of tomatoes and onion will reach the market in the next two to three weeks from Sindh. In the meanwhile, imports from Iran will help fill the gap to some extent.
The Ministry of Commerce has also introduced non-tariff measures related to quality standards on almost all vegetables as part of the measures to reduce import bill of the country. The import was linked with the quarantine certification requirement but no staff of the quarantine department is posted at boarder areas with Iran and Afghanistan.
Currently, not a single non-objection certificate was issued for import of tomatoes from Iran owing to absence of quarantine department at Taftan border. Now, the government has no option but to make special arrangements for quarantine checking at the border.
These standards also hit import of tomatoes and onion from Afghanistan at Chaman and Torkham border as well.
The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industries President Daroo Khan Achakzai told Dawn that authorities are not accepting quarantine certificates of Afghanistan to allow entry of tomatoes and onions into the country through Chaman and Torkham border stations.
He said that Afghanistan has adequate tomato and onion production. Other vegetables, he said are also subject to similar quarantine restrictions.
The supply gap has also been partially supported by the lack of imports from Wagah border from India. The suspension of trade with New Delhi in the wake of Kashmir issue has also contributed to rising prices of vegetables in the domestic market.
The government is yet to decide on waiver of duty and taxes on import of three essential vegetables — tomatoes, onions and potatoes.
Currently, there is only 5.5 per cent income tax on import of tomatoes while there is no customs or sales tax on it. However, on import of onion, the government charges 20pc sales tax and 5.5pc income tax only. And on the import of potatoes, the government collects 25pc additional customs duty, 17pc sales tax and 5.5pc income tax.
To reduce the import price of these commodities, the government needs to withdraw these meaningless revenues to pass the benefit forward to end consumers.
Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2019