ISLAMABAD: The export of raw food products recorded a growth of 35.38 per cent in February to $702.46 million, up from $518.87m over the corresponding month last year, forcing the local consumers to pay higher prices.

With this growth, raw food exports increased for the seventh consecutive month during the current fiscal year despite the highest food inflation in the country’s history, according to data compiled by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

These unchecked exports drove food inflation to a stunning 20.2pc in February as prices rose, limiting cash-starved people’s access to key goods such as wheat flour, rice, onions, sugar, meat and vegetables.

With the beginning of Ramazan, prices of vegetables such as onions, potatoes and tomatoes and those of fruits like bananas, apples and guava have reached new highs.

Unchecked shipments drive food inflation to 20.2pc

The new fiscal year began with a negative growth of 7.56pc in export of raw food products, but it improved to positive growth of 4.07pc in August, while export proceeds grew further by 60.89pc in September, 59.90pc in October, 60.65pc in November, 111.63pc in December and 105.29pc in January.

Food exports grew 54.05pc in the first eight months of FY24 to $4.96bn from $3.22bn in the corresponding months last year.

With the shortage and rising exports, the onion coming from Sindh had witnessed the highest increase of Rs300 per kg in its price, forcing the caretaker government to impose a ban on its export, as well as banana whose price rose by up to Rs300 per dozen.

Responding to a calling-attention notice raised by PPP MNA Naveed Qamar in the National Assembly on Friday, Commerce Minister Jam Kamal assured the house that the ban would be lifted after Ramazan.

The temporary ban on exports of bananas and onions during Ramazan aims to ensure an adequate domestic supply of these essential commodities during the holy month.

Analysts say the surge in food exports can be attributed to the unprecedented rupee depreciation. In addition, persistent disruptions in the supply chain and higher prices in the international market have led to soaring demand for food products.

The PBS data showed the country’s rice exports rose 85.83pc in July-February FY24 led by basmati rice, which had been falling since last year. India’s recent decision to impose a ban on rice exports to protect the interest of domestic consumers has emerged as a key driver behind the surge in basmati rice exports from Pakistan.

The export of basmati rice experienced a notable surge of 39.43pc, reaching $539.42m in July-February FY24 from $386.88m in the corresponding period last year. The export of non-basmati rice rose 104.37pc to $1.97bn in July-February 2023-24 from $967.87m in the same period last year.

Due to a sustained surge in export figures over the past two years, the average price of basmati rice has surged to Rs390 per kg from Rs150, restricting buying from domestic consumers.

Pakistan exported $333.85m worth of meat in 8MFY24 from $256.28m over the same period last year, showing a growth of 30.16pc. The reason for the increase in meat exports is the introduction of new markets like Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations, Malaysia and Uzbekistan.

Furthermore, one meat exporting company was granted market access for heat-treated meat shipments to China.

Prices of meat in the domestic market have experienced an unparalleled surge in recent years. In two and a half years, the average price of buffalo meat has jumped from Rs700 per kg to Rs1,250. This increase has caught the attention of market observers and stakeholders alike. The price of chicken has also experienced an unprecedented surge, reaching its highest level over the last two years.

The export of all other food products saw an increase of 23.27pc to $792.14m in 8MFY24 from $642.62m in the corresponding months last year. The export of vegetables reached $277.06m in eight months this year against $198.94m over the corresponding months last year. Fruits’ exports saw a growth of 13.89pc to $246.46m in 8MFY24 against $216.41m over the corresponding months last year.

On the other hand, Pakistan imported 778,112 tonnes of wheat in February, up 194pc from 264,430 tonnes over the corresponding month last year. The country began importing wheat in September 2023 despite the government’s claims of having a bumper wheat crop.

The import of sugar also saw an increase of 28.07pc as it stood at 315 tonnes in February FY24 from 246 tonnes over the corresponding month last year. The average sugar price in the country is around Rs160 per kg.

In eight months, the import bill of tea reached $43667m this year, up 10.13pc from $396.49m over the same period last year.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2024

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