IMPORTERS have urged the government to allow them to import wheat from Ukraine. They claim that at the current price, the imported grain will cost less than locally-produced wheat.—Reuters/file
IMPORTERS have urged the government to allow them to import wheat from Ukraine. They claim that at the current price, the imported grain will cost less than locally-produced wheat.—Reuters/file

KARACHI: The prices of wheat and pulses have failed to subside even after massive imports in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year as consumers were still paying hefty prices for the commodities.

The government spent over $1 billion to import 2.68 million tonnes of wheat during July-April FY23 compared to $795 million for procuring 2.20m tonnes in the corresponding period last year.

The average per tonne (APT) price of grain stood at $393 this fiscal year compared to $360 in the corresponding period last year.

Similarly, a whopping $818m was spent to import 1.14m tonnes of pulses compared to $520m on the 783,634 tonnes in the same period last year. The APT price this year was $715 against $664 last year.

Traders plead with govt to allow private wheat import

The latest Sensitive Price Index showed that the average national price of a 20kg wheat bag increased to Rs2,628.17 in the week ending on May 25 as compared to Rs1,250.50 in the corresponding period last year.

Similarly, the average prices of gram pulse, mash and moong have increased from Rs180.67 to Rs248.60 per kg, from Rs287.37 to Rs448.11per kg and from Rs172.20 to Rs281per kg, respectively.

Faisal Anis Majeed, who is an importer of pulses, said black gram was also being imported from Australia due to short low crop output in Pakistan.

The local production was between 250,000-275,000 tonnes against the consumption of 700,000 tonnes per annum.

Besides, the bulk of black gram went up in March on the back of soaring demand as it was a vital ingredient to make gram flour (besan).

Similarly, the quantity of wheat imported has also risen gradually in the last few years.

The Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) imported 1.7m tonnes of wheat in FY21 as per the federal government’s directives. It delivered 1,021m tonnes to Punjab, 444,935 tonnes to KP, 117,528 tonnes to Sindh and 114,532 tonnes to Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) through tenders to stabilise the prices.

In FY2022, 2.23m tonnes were imported, of which KP got 519,412 tonnes while Passco received 1.68m tonnes.

The private sector was only once given permission to import 1.45m tonnes during FY21 and after that, TCP was tasked with importing the commodity.

On its website, TCP said it had imported 2.66m tonnes in 2022-23 via Karachi and Gwadar ports, of which Gwadar Port was utilised to import 450,000 tonnes through. The entire imported quantity of 2.66m tonnes was delivered to Passco.

Private wheat import

Pakistan Flour Mills Association, Sindh Zone Chairman Aamir Abdullah said the government usually releases wheat from October to April in Sindh and Punjab through quota allocation instead of ensuring a full year’s supply, forcing them to buy costly wheat from the open market, which resulted in higher flour prices.

He said the only way to stabilise flour prices was to allow millers to import one million tonnes of wheat from Ukraine, which now costs less than locally produced wheat.

He claimed that the cost and freight rate or C&F rate of Ukraine wheat last year was between $265 to 270 (Rs 90,000) per tonne, while the locally produced wheat carried a price tag of Rs 120,000 per tonne.

Mr Abdullah claimed that Ukraine wheat prices would drop further after the arrival of the new crop in July.

He quoted the price of flour No2.5 at Rs 130 per kg and fine and super fine flour at Rs 140 per kg, which he claimed remained unchanged since Ramazan despite a ban on inter-provincial wheat movement in Sindh.

Cereal Association of Pakistan Chairman Muzamil Chappal urged the government to allow the private sector to import at least 500,000 tonnes or one million tonnes of wheat to bring down flour prices.

He said wheat imports by the private sector from Ukraine can bring down prices of flour varieties much earlier than the government’s import.

Mr Chappal said the rate of pulses remained high due to the rupee devaluation against the dollar in the last 10 months. However, various pulses are now selling under cost due to low demand during summer.

As per the Economic Survey, the wheat crop in FY21 was 27m tonnes but in FY22, it plunged to 26.4m tonnes. However, the country has reaped bumper crops this year with 27.5m tonnes, raising hope of reduced prices in the coming days.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2023

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