KARACHI: A cabinet minister’s plea to the public to help overcome the foreign exchange glut by consuming less tea has caused ‘a storm in a teacup’.
Pakistan, which has been the world’s leading importer of tea for several years, saw tea imports rise to $423.466 million in July-February (2021-22). In the same period of the previous fiscal, the figure was $379.314 million, APP news agency quoted the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) as reporting earlier this year.
According to AFP, the latest government figures show Pakistan pays over $515 million a year to bring in the commodity, mostly from Kenya. However, the country is suffering a long-brewing economic crisis with dwindling foreign reserves used to pay the crippling debt.
“I would also appeal to the nation to cut down one or two cups of tea because the tea we import is also imported on credit,” federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal said on Tuesday.
But this message did not go down well with most Pakistanis, who drink tea in many forms — black, green, hot, cold, sweet, salted and spiced.
“Why should we reduce the use of tea... we drink at our own expense, we don’t drink with government money,” said Jan Mohammad, 45, a truck driver who says he drinks between 15 to 20 cups a day.
“The government has increased its expenditure. They travel in big cars with protocol but we only enjoy tea,” said Muhammad.
At a tea stall in Islamabad’s Aabpara market, baker Mohammad Ibrahim said he drank 12 cups every day.
“I take three, four cups in the morning, then three in the afternoon and three, four late night,” he said.
“This is my addiction.” At the same restaurant, Tanveer Iqbal agreed that people should cut down -- even as he and his four children sipped piping hot cups of the drink.
The university professor noted tea was routinely served at almost every meeting -- especially those held by government officials.
“How will we reduce the use of tea when tea is the main drink in all the official meetings?” he asked.
Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2022