ISLAMABAD: In an unprecedented move to prevent a potential surge in local retail prices, the Sugar Advisory Board on Tuesday rejected a proposal from sugar millers seeking permission for export.

The millers have sought approval to export 500,000 tonnes of sugar before the commencement of the sugarcane crushing season. The advisory board meeting was presided over by Commerce Minister Gohar Ejaz and attended by stakeholders, including representatives from the mills.

“Under no circumstances I will permit the export of even a single tonne of sugar from the country,” Mr Gohar told Dawn. He emphasised that the interim government’s top priority is to safeguard domestic consumers, a stark contrast to the PMLN-led coalition government’s ministers who allowed exports which led to skyrocketing local prices.

The retail price of sugar was reduced from above Rs200 per kg to a national average of Rs130-174 per kg following a stringent crackdown launched in August on smuggling and hoarding. However, with the recent rise in international prices, permitting exports could lead to Pakistan importing sugar at triple the price for domestic sales, he explained.

During the period spanning from February to August, the sugar exports surged to 248,854 tonnes against no exports recorded over the comparable period of last year.

The Economic Coordination Committee imposed an export ban from Aug 10. This decision came amidst a surge in the retail price of sugar, reaching an unprecedented high of Rs200 per kilogramme.

Since March 2022, the sugar industry has persistently sought approval for the export of excess quantities, particularly when prices were hovering between Rs80-85 per kg in the domestic market.

However, the PML-N government in February allowed exports on pressures exerted by coalition partners, notably the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Mr Gohar stated that the association was unequivocally informed that no sugar exports would be permitted until March 2024. This is to allow for a review of the country’s actual sugar stock.

According to the minister, the opening stock is 220,000 tonnes less than last year. Furthermore, this year’s cane crop yield is also lower than the previous year, he added.

The millers requested comprehensive information on the country’s current sugar inventory. The meeting concluded with the decision to commence sugarcane crushing in Punjab from Nov 25.

Meanwhile, cane crushing has already begun in Sindh. The cost of cane has been set at Rs425 per tonne in Sindh and Rs400 in Punjab.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2023

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