NA committee warns against looming wheat crisis

Updated 29 Sep 2020

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SIALKOT: In this Sept 25 photo, people wait for their turn to buy wheat flour from a government distribution truck on Kashmir Road. — APP
SIALKOT: In this Sept 25 photo, people wait for their turn to buy wheat flour from a government distribution truck on Kashmir Road. — APP

ISLAMABAD: Delays in wheat imports at the official level could lead to a major wheat crisis in the country by the end of December, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Commerce said on Monday while expressing concerns on the looming scenario.

The standing committee, led by its chairman MNA Naveed Qamar, directed the Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MNFSR) to share updates on all measures taken to address the wheat crisis and communicate a plan within seven days.

At the outset, Mr Qamar pointed out that some serious mismanagement in prior planning of wheat imports was causing not only a shortage of wheat in the country but also a huge hike in flour prices. He directed the ministry to take immediate steps to address the perception of wheat shortage in the coming months.

Chairman Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) Dr. Riaz Ahmed Memon briefed the committee over the import of wheat so far. He said tenders floated for wheat import on Sept 15 were canceled due to high rates.

Mr Memon said the fourth tender for import of 300,000 tonnes of wheat was issued on Sept 26 and the bid will be opened on Oct 5.

The TCP chief said wheat price increased in the international market on the second day of the government’s decision of import of 1.7 million tonnes of wheat. “Negotiations are underway with Russia regarding the import of wheat at the government level,” he added.

The committee was informed that the cabinet has approved the import of 1.5m tonnes of wheat by TCP to meet demand in the country. The imported wheat will be provided to Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco), Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The TCP has awarded contracts of import of wheat at $233.85 per tonne which will arrive between October 2020 to January 2021.

Additional Secretary MNFSR said the private sector has imported 313,916 tonnes of wheat and has booked orders for importing 1.091m tonnes of wheat. With the arrival of imported wheat, the price of imported wheat will be Rs41 per kg, he said.

However, the committee observed that the price of wheat in the market is higher than the imported rate or landed price.

He said wheat import permits have been issued to the private sector for import of 2.9m tonnes. He said prices will stabilise only after import of 1m tonnes of wheat. He said the subsidy should go to those who deserve relief.

The additional secretary said that wheat is given at a rate of Rs12 per kg to Gilgit-Baltistan. He said the government has decided in principle to increase the support price of wheat.

The committee also demanded the government to fix the support price of wheat and announce maximum incentives to local growers to get rid of the wheat crisis. The committee also observed that benefit of subsidy is going to foreign farmers in the shape of the import of wheat at higher rates.

The committee deferred the safeguard measures (Amendment) Bill 2019 on the absence of the mover MNA Sanaullah Khan Masti Khel.

The meeting was attended by committee members including Yaqoob Shaikh, Khurram Shehzad, Muhammad Shafiq, Wajiha Akram, Farukh Khan, Iradat Shareef Khan, Sajida Begum, Tahira Aurangzeb, Shaista Pervaiz, Javed Shah Jilani and Usman Ibrahim.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2020