Punjab govt downplays talk of sugar shortage

Published January 19, 2021
The authorities in Punjab have ruled out an “immediate thr­eat” of sugar shortage in the province, as well as in the country. — APP/File
The authorities in Punjab have ruled out an “immediate thr­eat” of sugar shortage in the province, as well as in the country. — APP/File

LAHORE: The authorities in Punjab have ruled out an “immediate thr­eat” of sugar shortage in the province, as well as in the country, claiming that millers have adequate stocks with them to meet requirements for “many months to come”.

“There is no immediate threat of sugar shortage in the country, particularly in Punjab, as sugar mills are holding over 1.36 million tonnes of stock,” Pun­jab’s Cane Comm­issioner Muha­mmad Zam­an Wat­t­oo told Dawn on Monday.

“This season the province has reaped a crop better than last year’s and mills have so far produced close to 19 million tonnes of sugar. The output will almost be the same during the rest of the season.”

According to the official, some “nefarious elements are giving a wrong impression about shortage of sugar with intent to spark panic buying and then manipulate the market”.

An official source said on Monday that bulk purchases by the industrial sector and a delayed release of their stocks by sugar mills had caused an ‘artificial’ shortage of the commodity, leading to an ‘unprecedented’ hike in prices even though “we are in the midst of the sugarcane crushing season”.

The source disclosed that 60 to 70 per cent of sugar stocks were being purchased by the industrial sector – beverages, pharmaceuticals and confectioners. The Punjab government has suggested the federal authorities to make it mandatory for the sector to meet 35 per cent of its requirements through imports.

Federal Industries Minister Hammad Azhar had stated a few days ago that a summary was being sent to the cabinet’s Economic Coordination Committee for import of 500,000 tonnes of sugar to offset ‘pressure’ on the local market. The summary, it was learnt, also proposed that mills be allowed to import raw sugar.

But an official report sent to the federal cabinet by Punjab, a copy of which is available with Dawn, opposed the proposal because “millers are releasing insufficient stocks of the sweetener to dealers and retailers”.

This had created an artificial shortage of the commodity and led to a price spiral, the report argued.

The report proposed legal action against this practice, arguing that allowing millers to import raw sugar would mean “putting all eggs in one basket” as they would be in a position to “further manipulate prices”.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2021

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