Pakistan to import wheat from India

May 7th, 2008 - 5:12 pm ICT by admin  

By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, May 7 (IANS) Confirming that tenders for the import of wheat would be called within a few days, official sources say Pakistan may import wheat from neighbouring India to meet the current shortage. The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet Tuesday approved a proposal to import 1.5 million tonnes of wheat to overcome the prevailing wheat crisis in the country.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani ordered that 250,000 tonnes of wheat should be imported immediately because the price in the world market was showing a downward trend.

Pakistan’s total consumption of wheat is estimated at 2.2 million tonnes whereas the production for this year is around 2mn tonnes - of which, according to rough estimates, 0.2 million tonnes is smuggled to Afghanistan.

An official said the government may allow wheat import by individuals from India after testing it for Karnal Bunt, the fungus that had earlier led to the rejection of wheat from India.

He said the quickest import can be from India by road through the Wagah Border. The government will take up this issue with the Indian authorities “very soon”, he added.

Flour millers have been quoted as saying that they were making arrangements for import of wheat from India to bridge the shortage gap. The millers said about 5,000 tonnes of wheat could be immediately imported from Indian Punjab.

Last month, the government increased by Rs.160 the wheat price to Rs.625 per 40 kg withdrawing all subsidies on it. This resulted in flour becoming more expensive by at least Rs.50 per 20 kg bag which is now being sold for Rs.375 at government stores. In the open market, the same bag costs Rs.400.

Previously, the government was buying wheat at Rs.625 per 40 kg and supplying to mills at Rs.465 - giving subsidy of Rs.160 on every 40 kg. Government officials say the step has been taken to put an end to smuggling and hoarding.

Moreover, the decision to enhance the wheat support price was taken after it was reported that the government was importing wheat from Australia and the US at the rate of Rs.1200 per 40 kg.

The new civilian government in Pakistan - already under attack for raising petroleum prices twice just in a month - wants to ensure that wheat is available to the people at the right time.

The country in recent months faced severe flour crisis and the price of roti has been increased by almost 70 percent. The roti that was being sold for Rs.3 is now available for Rs.5.

“The government obviously does not wish to be caught in a politically explosive wheat-shortage situation and we want to import wheat as soon as possible,” a senior official told IANS.

ECC also approved the export of 50,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan to avert a food crisis in the neighbouring country.

“This is important to stop smuggling and to contain the wheat price,” the official said adding that the export to Afghanistan will be undertaken only at the government level.

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