Govt can ‘consider’ importing edible items from India after flood destruction: Miftah

Published August 29, 2022
Finance Minister Miftah Ismail addresses a press conference in Islamabad on Monday. — RadioPakistan
Finance Minister Miftah Ismail addresses a press conference in Islamabad on Monday. — RadioPakistan

Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said on Monday that the government could “consider importing vegetables and other edible items from India” to facilitate people after recent floods destroyed crops across the country, Radio Pakistan reported.

Ismail was addressing a press conference in Islamabad and made the comment in response to a question.

The finance minister said the prices of vegetables had risen considerably due to shortages and that he had discussed the issue with the commerce and finance secretaries. He added that they would take a plan to the prime minister in a day or two.

“We will open duty-free import, make it easier and I also want to say that we will consider importing through the land border with India because these prices [of vegetables] are not sustainable,” he said.

Ismail said he was normally in the favour of farmers earning money and did not want to open imports but because this was an “extraordinary situation”, he said trade with India would be opened if need be.

Pakistan formally downgraded its trade relations with India in August 2019 to the level of Israel with which Islamabad has no trade ties at all. The decision had come as a reaction to India’s decision to revoke Article 370 of its constitution that granted occupied Kashmir a special status.

According to a source, former security adviser Moeed Yousuf was working on some proposals regarding trade with India. On record, former commerce adviser Razak Dawood also spoke on several occasions for the resumption of trade with India.

In March 2021, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) had announced it would allow the private sector to import 0.5 million tonnes of white sugar from India and cotton via the Wagah border. However, the decision was reversed within days following severe criticism from the main opposition parties—PML-N and PPP—who are now in a coalition government.

With a change in the federal government this year, the Ministry of Commerce in May ruled out the possibility of a resumption of stalled bilateral trade.

The response came from the commerce ministry over the widespread speculation on social media that the government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was considering a proposal to resume trade with India.

“There is no change in Pakistan’s policy on trade with India,” an official announcement from the commerce ministry had said.

However, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in June had advocated the case for trade and engagement with other countries, especially India. The foreign minister had put greater emphasis on engaging India, saying it was time for pivoting to economic diplomacy and focusing on engagement.

The Foreign Office had subsequently issued a clarification on Bilawal’s comments, saying that there was no change in Pakistan’s policy towards its eastern neighbour and there was a “national consensus” on this.

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