ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said on Wednesday the government would take a decision on allowing imports from India in the aftermath of floods after looking at supplies and taking coalition partners and stakeholders on board.

Separately, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) exempted relief goods imports from duties and taxes to help flood victims, many of whom have been displaced and are sweltering in the summer heat with sporadic food aid and little access to water.

“More than one international agency has approa­ched the government to allow them to bring food items from India through the land border [of Wagah],” Mr Ismail tweeted on Wednes­day. “The government will take the decision to allow imports or not based on supply shortage position, after consulting its coalition partners and key stakeholders.”

The coalition government is currently looking into all options, including allowing vegetable imports from India, to alleviate the suffering of the millions of people affected by the floods.

Pakistan has already allowed the trade of pharmaceutical products and surgical instruments with India.

Trade ties between Pakistan and India have largely been frozen since the latter revoked held Kashmir’s special constitutional status in August 2019.

In November last year, the PTI government allowed the import and transportation of 50,000 tonnes of wheat and life-saving medicines from India to Afghanistan through the Wagah border on humanitarian grounds.

On Monday, Mr Ismail told a TV channel that “we need to consider getting some vegetables over the land border”.

“We have to do it because of the kind of prices and shortages we are experiencing... Inflation has broken people’s backs,” he said.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has criticised the government for trying to resume trade with India on the pretext of floods, with party leader Fawad Chaudhry wondering how the government could start trade with India ignoring the atrocities on the people of occupied Kashmir.

‘No decision on Indian imports’

On Wednesday, Commerce Minister Naveed Qamar accused the PTI of doing politics over the government’s intention to import tomatoes and onions from neighbouring countries.

“It’s time to support and work in coordination to alleviate the flood impact,” Mr Qamar told reporters in a presser in Islamabad, alongside Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman and Minister of State for Law and Justice Shahadat Awan.

The prices of essential food items had shot up due to supply chain disruptions, he said, insisting that it was difficult for citizens to purchase expensive food items.

“We politicians can afford to buy at higher rates,” he said, advising PTI leaders to support government initiatives for extending relief to flood-hit people, especially in Sindh and Balochistan.

Earlier, during a meeting of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Commerce, Mr Qamar clarified that for now the government had decided to import onions and tomatoes from Iran and Afghanistan. He was replying to Senator Palwasha Khan, who had asked whether the government was considering importing the staples from India.

“No decision has been taken yet about importing onions and tomatoes from India,” he stressed. “The decision on imports from India will be taken after consultation with all stakeholders. No permission has been granted yet.”

However, the commerce minister informed the committee that the government would facilitate private companies in importing these items from Iran and Afghanistan. Currently, importers are buying tomatoes and onions from Afghanistan.

He told committee members that floods had badly damaged crops and the country could face food shortages from next month. Standing crops had been damaged while new ones could not be planted because the fields were submerged, he said, noting that vegetable prices had been on the rise as a result.

Meanwhile, the FBR said in a statement the prime minister had ordered urgent relief measures to ensure an uninterrupted supply of relief goods for flood victims.

The duty exemption — subject to certification by the National Disaster Management Authority and the relevant provincial disaster management authority — will also apply to goods being sent as donations by foreign governments, organisations and individual donors.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2022

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