ECC approves duty-free import of 0.3m tonnes of wheat to mitigate ongoing crisis

Updated January 20, 2020

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According to the finance ministry, Punjab and Passco have approximately 41 tonnes of wheat stocks available. — Reuters/File
According to the finance ministry, Punjab and Passco have approximately 41 tonnes of wheat stocks available. — Reuters/File

The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) on Monday approved the import of 0.3 million tonnes of wheat without regulatory duty amid an unprecedented price hike and country-wide shortage during the past few days.

Chaired by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, the committee has allowed for wheat to be imported till March 31, with the first shipment due to arrive by February 15.

It has also asked the Punjab government and the Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) to release wheat stocks in order to overcome a country-wide shortage.

A statement issued by the finance ministry said that Punjab and Passco have approximately 41 tonnes of wheat stocks available.

According to Reuters, it is not yet clear from which country or countries Pakistan will be importing the wheat.

During the meeting, the government also approved the Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC) waiver of Rs400 per bag on urea to ensure the supply of cheap fertiliser to farmers.

'Crisis to be over soon'

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad on Sunday, Minister for National Food Security and Research Makhdoom Khusro Bakh­tiar had said that the wheat crisis would be over soon and prices would normalise by Tuesday.

The minister had held a ban by the Punjab government on inter-provincial movement and the continued strike of transporters in Karachi as the main reasons behind the flour shortage in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh.

He said both the transport strike and the ban on movement that had affected the demand and supply in local markets had been ‘addressed’ and the supply of grains restored. He expressed the hope that flour prices would normalise by Tuesday.

Bakhtiar claimed that sufficient wheat stocks were available in the country to fulfil domestic requirements and expressed firm resolve to take strict action against those involved in hoarding, profiteering or creating ‘artificial’ crisis of the commodity in domestic markets.

Blame game

On Sunday, the opposition and centre had continued to bicker over who was to blame for the fast declining wheat reserves in the country.

While the PTI had laid the blame squarely on the Sindh government, citing untimely purchasing and a subsequent shortage in supply to the flour mills, the Sindh government had taken exception to being the target of "a dirty blame game" and in turn held the prime minister responsible.

Meanwhile, the PPP and PML-N had alleged that despite a shortage in reserves of wheat, the commodity had been exported.

Further, leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif had demanded an inquiry to determine who had authorised the move.


Additional input from Reuters