Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said on Wednesday that the government would take a decision on whether to allow imports from India in the aftermath of floods after looking at supplies and consulting coalition partners and key stakeholders.
“More than one international agency has approached the govt to allow them to bring food items from India through the land border. The govt will take the decision to allow imports or not based on supply shortage position, after consulting its coalition partners & key stakeholders,” he tweeted.
Responding to Ismail, PML-N leader Mohammad Zubair said the country “desperately” needed essential food items.
“Not importing at cheaper rates within a short timeframe will be criminal. Like we say, we can deal with politics later — this time international politics,” he added.
On Monday, Ismail had said the government could consider importing edibles through the land border with India because the sharp rise in food prices following the devastation from floods across the country was not sustainable.
He said he was normally in the favour of Pakistani farmers earning money and did not want to open imports. However, this was an “extraordinary situation” and trade with India would be opened if need be.
Separately, the matter was also brought up in the Senate Standing Committee on Commerce’s meeting today.
Senator Palwasha Khan questioned whether the government was considering importing onions and tomatoes from India, to which Commerce Minister Naveed Qamar replied that for now, the government had decided to import the items from Iran and Afghanistan.
“No decision has been taken yet about importing onions and tomatoes from India,” he stressed.
Qamar informed the committee that the government would facilitate private companies in importing the items from Iran and Afghanistan.
“The decision regarding imports from India will be taken after consultation with all stakeholders. No permission has been granted yet.”
The commerce minister informed the committee that floods had destroyed 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 and pointed out that vegetable prices were increasing.
Downgrading of trade ties
Pakistan formally downgraded its trade relations with India in August 2019 to the level of Israel with which Islamabad has no trade ties at all. The decision had come as a reaction to India’s revocation of Article 370 of its constitution that granted occupied Kashmir a special status.
According to a source, former security adviser Moeed Yousuf was working on some proposals regarding trade with India. On record, former commerce adviser Razak Dawood also spoke on several occasions for the resumption of trade with India.
In March last year, the Economic Coordination Committee had announced it would allow the private sector to import 0.5 million tonnes of white sugar from India and cotton via the Wagah border. However, the decision was reversed within days following severe criticism from the main opposition parties — PML-N and PPP — who are now in a coalition government.
With a change in the federal government this year, the commerce ministry in May ruled out the possibility of a resumption of stalled bilateral trade.
That clarification had come amid widespread speculation on social media that the government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was considering a proposal to resume trade with India.
“There is no change in Pakistan’s policy on trade with India,” an official announcement from the commerce ministry had said.
However, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in June had advocated the case for trade and engagement with other countries, especially India. The foreign minister had put greater emphasis on engaging India, saying it was time for pivoting to economic diplomacy and focusing on engagement.
The Foreign Office had subsequently issued a clarification on Bilawal’s comments, saying that there was no change in Pakistan’s policy towards its eastern neighbour and there was a “national consensus” on this.