ISLAMABAD: Raw food exports continued to expand in March, with a 16.35 per cent increase to $685.03 million, up from $588.76m in the same month last year, forcing local consumers to pay higher prices across the country.

With this upward trend, raw food exports have climbed for the eighth consecutive month this fiscal year, despite the country’s highest food inflation in history, according to data compiled by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

The commerce ministry lifted the ban on onion exports following Eidul Fitr, despite the fact that the average onion price per kg is more than Rs200. Demand for Pakistani onions has increased as a result of the Indian government’s ban on onion exports to protect the interests of domestic consumers.

These unchecked exports drove food inflation to a stunning 16.6pc in March as prices rose, limiting cash-starved people’s access to key goods such as wheat flour, rice, onions, sugar, meat, and vegetables.

Non-textile exports up 10.87pc in eight months

The new fiscal year began with a negative growth of 7.56pc in the 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, 105.29pc in January, and 35pc in February.

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 overall exports of raw food products and non-textile value-added products witnessed a growth of 22.4pc in the first nine months of the current fiscal year to $10.49 billion, up from $8.57bn over the corresponding months of last year.

The PBS data showed the country’s rice exports rose by 83.37pc in July-March FY24 led by basmati rice, which had been falling since last year. India’s 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 36.37pc, reaching $622.34m in July-March FY24 from $456.36m in the corresponding period last year.

The export of non-basmati rice rose by 102.15pc to $2.31bn in July-March 2023-24 from $1.14m 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 Rs400 per kg from Rs150, restricting buying from domestic consumers.

Pakistan exported $386.93m worth of meat in 9MFY24, up from $301.72m over the same period last year, showing a growth of 28.14pc. 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 Rs1,300. 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 21.21pc to $876.65m in 9MFY24 from $723.55m in the corresponding months last year. The export of vegetables reached $336.28m against $235.51m over, an increase of 42.79pc.

Fruits’ exports saw a growth of 17.34pc to $265.65m in 8MFY24 against $226.38m over the corresponding months last year.

On the other hand, Pakistan imported 691,192 tonnes of wheat in March, up 110.42pc from 328,453 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.

In nine months, the import bill of tea reached $495.22m this year, up 13.86pc from $434.94m over the same period last year.

Non-textile value-added products

The export of engineering goods saw an increase of 10.87pc in 8MFY24 from a year ago. The export of these commodities revived in March, while a few other commodities also saw an increase.

In 9MFY24, the export of footwear dropped 11.30pc and leather garments by 7.21pc year-on-year in July-March FY24. The decline was also observed in leather gloves. The exports of raw leather also decreased by 20.55pc during the period under review.

The export of surgical instruments also saw a decline of 1.36pc during the months under review. The export of carpets and rugs declined by 21.16pc in 9MFY24. The export of sports goods also declined 6.03pc. The export of gur products (which are not classified under the food category) saw an increase of 19.69pc in 9MFY24 from a year ago.

The export of jewellery surged by 22.74pc in 9MFY24, followed by a 4.75pc rise in the export of electric fans. However, the export of gems declined by 7.96pc, furniture 37pc, and handicrafts 68.37pc. Contrary to a slump in FY23, the cement exports jumped 32.51pc in 9MFY24.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2024

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