ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary panel on Friday asked Ministry of Commerce to evolve a strategy within a month to diversify export of dates to other markets following the suspension of trade ties with India.
The National Assembly Standing Committee on Commerce, led by MNA Naveed Qamar, directed the ministry to explore new markets and engage the trade and investment officers posted in Pakistani missions abroad for matchmaking efforts for date exports.
He also directed Commerce Secretary Mohammad Sualeh Ahmad Faruqui to prepare a comprehensive plan in consultation with stakeholders and present a plan before the committee in 30 days.
Pakistan is the world’s fifth-largest producer of dates and exports have plummeted ever since Pakistan cut off trade ties with India last year.
According to the Ministry of Food Security data, annual date production in the country is estimated at 550,000 tonnes. Moreover, 50 per cent of of this is produced in Sindh alone. The rest of is contributed by Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
There are around 160 varieties of date palm in the country. However, Aseel of Khairpur, Dhakki of D. I. Khan and Begum Jangi of Mekran are in popular demand owing to their exotic taste. Statistics show that India, before the end of trade ties, was importing around 90pc of the country’s total dry dates. The bulk of locally-produced dates are exported dry as the country lacks requisite facilities for processing and branding.
The standing committee discussed in detail the ban on trade with India, especially on dates.
Commerce Secretary Faruqui informed the committee that after the withdrawal of most-favored nation status from Pakistan, India has imposed 200pc duty on all goods originating in or exported from the country.
The increase in duties is in violation of Article 7 of the South Asian Free Trade Association’s Trade Liberalisation Program. Therefore, Pakistan has formally suspended trade with India, secretary informed the committee members.
He further said that Pakistan exports $107.4 million worth of fresh or dried dates to the world. The exports have been affected since India imposed 200pc duty on goods originating from Pakistan. Earlier, duty on date imports from Pakistan was at 25pc.
To minimise the impact, Faruqui said the commerce ministry had taken several steps, including exploration of new markets to divert exports in order to reduce the losses incurred as a result of trade suspension between the two neighbours.
He said that Pakistan exported dates worth $14.20m in 2019-20 to Nepal, compared to meager $0.03m in 2018-19, registering a hefty increase in a year’s time.
Pakistan also exported dry dates worth $1.2m in 2019-20 to Singapore and $1.13m to Thailand for the first time in 2019-20. He said other vital export destinations where date exports witnessed an increasing trend include UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bangladesh, Turkey, etc.
He assured the committee that the commerce ministry would organise meetings for dates exporters’ delegations in Germany, Australia and Netherlands.
Date growers have asked for government support to modernise production technologies in order to increase yields on date production. They also demanded easy loans on low markups.
Meanwhile, in other business, the committee passed the Marine Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 2019 moved by MNA Riaz Fatyana. However, the committee deferred the Safeguard Measures (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in absence of MNA Muhammad Sanaullah Khan Masti Khal who moved the bill.
Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2020