Foreign buyers cancelling visits due to poor harbour infrastructure

27 Sep 2020

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INFRASTRUCTURE around the harbour is in a poor state as seen on Saturday.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
INFRASTRUCTURE around the harbour is in a poor state as seen on Saturday.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: Poor civic conditions of the metropolis and growing complaints of cleanliness, which further aggravated after record monsoon rains, are now taking a toll on the national economy as buyers of half-a-billion dollar seafood export industry are finding it hard to visit the Karachi Fish Harbour for business due to deteriorated infrastructure aro­u­nd the facility, leading to cancellation and delays in export orders, exporters and officials said.

The exporters, who have already been facing a ban from the European Union on Pakistani seafood for the past several years, claim that the existing infrastructure conditions around the harbour led to cancellation of several visits of foreign buyers, most of whom had refused to visit the facility which housed more than 100 seafood processing units.

For the exporters and thousands of workers associated with fishing and seafood processing industry, their future looks grim as response from both the provincial and federal governments on their repeated requests to fix the problem isn’t encouraging.

Both the centre and Sindh, they claim, are passing responsibility on each other to repair the damaged infrastructure and revamp civic facilities.

Export earnings under threat

“Last year [in 2019-2020] we earned US$437 million foreign exchange by exporting seafood mainly to Southeast Asian and Gulf countries compared to US$450m earning in 2018-19,” said Mohammad Zafar of the Pakistan Fisheries Exporters Association (PFEA).

Federal and Sindh govts are passing the buck for repair of roads leading to fish harbour

“We could have easily crossed the half-billion dollar mark but due to the pandemic most of the orders were cancelled and the world’s economy came to a standstill. But this year even after three months of the current fiscal year, the situation doesn’t look good for Pakistan’s seafood export. Foreign buyers and their representatives have stopped visiting us due to deteriorated infrastructure of road and civic facilities around the fisheries leading to Karachi Fish Harbour.”

The situation has sent ripples among the fisherfolk, who fear that the existing state of the infrastructure and road conditions may lead to an irreparable loss to thousands of people belonging to the working class.

The industry, which has resu­med operation to a large extent after months of suspension due to lockdown amid coronavirus pandemic, is facing another challenge which can jeopardise employment of many.

“There are multiple agencies which have the authority and mandate to maintain infrastructure in and outside the harbour including the Karachi Fisheries Harbour Authority (KFHA), Karachi Port Trust and Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC),” said a spok­es­man for the Fishermen’s Cooper­ative Society (FCS) — a government-run body to look after welfare of the fishermen and working class associated with fisheries.

“After efforts from the FCS, the KFHA initiated the repairing of a road or two a few months ago but then came the strong monsoon season which suspended the project. The situation is worst right now. One can’t invite any foreign buyer and many of them have already showed their inability to come due to the infrastructure problem. If this situation persists, it would not only negatively affect the exports but also the employment of thousands of poor labourers.”

Exporters decry govt apathy

The exporters and leaders of the fisherfolk said that they had held multiple meetings with the officials of the Sindh and federal governments but in vain.

They also referred to their meeting with Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Zaidi and Sindh fisheries high-ups but no positive response was received from any side.

“One needs to understand that seafood is a product which always needs more inspection for export than any other product from the buyers to check quality standards,” Mr Zafar of PFEA said. “The fish harbour is one of the most visited places of foreign buyers in the export sector. We don’t ask for much. If the government cannot overhaul the whole infrastructure, it can at least build two main arteries, measuring 160 metres each, leading to the harbour from West Wharf.”

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2020