ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: While the country faces a severe shortage of various vegetables after massive floods destroyed standing crops on millions of acres, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail on Monday said the government is planning to allow the duty-free import of vegetables and other edible items from India through the Wagah border to minimise the negative impact of rising inflation on the people.

Following the announcement, the business community voiced its support for the proposal, but cautioned the government to restrict traders to import only raw vegetable and not finished goods.

The finance minister mentioned the proposal regarding import from India in response to a question at a news conference, called to lambast the PTI leadership following the purported audio leaks of former finance minister Shaukat Tarin with the finance ministers of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regarding the IMF programme.

When asked what steps the government planned to take to counter record inflation, Mr Ismail said: “We are considering duty-free import of vegetables and other edible items,” he said, adding the ministries of commerce and finance had already held consultations on the subject and would be seeking the prime minister’s approval immediately.

LCCI chief suggests starting import of raw material, not finished goods, immediately

In his view, he said, if need be, the government would also allow import of vegetables and other such items from India through the land route given the extraordinary situation, as onion and tomato prices had surged manifold within a couple of days after flash floods devastated local crops.

‘Start import immediately’

Following the announcement, the trader community of Lahore sounded optimistic. “We think that import of vegetables from India (Punjab) must be started immediately in a bid to meet our demand and reduce the increasing prices of tomato, onion and other required vegetables,” Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Mian Nauman Kabir told Dawn on Monday. “But the government must keep the imports limited to vegetables alone and not their respective finished products such as tomato ketchup, French fries, onion powder and other vegetable- or fruit-related goods.”

Moreover, Lahore’s Market Committee Secretary Shehzad Cheema said whatever proposal is being thought out must be finalised immediately. “If the government keeps this suggestion in ambiguity, the prices of tomato, onion etc will increase further in the coming days, as the importers bringing them from Kabul have started slowing down the procurement,” he explained.

According to Yasir Bhatti, a Lahore-based importer currently in Kabul, the government must open trade with India by initially getting tomato, onion and other required vegetables. “At present, the rate of tomato and onion in Kabul is rising due to the floods. Moreover, the quality is also not good. Therefore, we must start importing them from India if we want to avert a massive increase in their prices within the next 10 days,” he warned.

A spokesperson for the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan also told Dawn they would implement any decision for the import of onion, tomato. “We are yet to receive any information from the respective ministry. As soon as we get, our fruits and vegetable division will start working on it,” she added.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2022

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