At a time when the country’s cotton economy is passing through a severe crisis, the Ministry of National Food Security and Research is seeking control of the Cotton Wing from the textile ministry with an assertion to put things in order. And the European Union wants Pakistan to look beyond textiles.
The crisis is being described as one of the worst in country’s history. The cotton production has declined by 33pcc during the current season; textile and clothing exports dropped by 8.93pc and cotton imports jumped to 194,465 tonnes during the first half of 2015-16; duty-free import of Indian yarn in the past four years has badly hit the domestic spinning industry; almost 20-25pc of looms have been closed down and many farmers are switching to other crops promising better returns.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MNFS&R) has requested the prime minister to let it take back the Cotton Wing whose performance under the Ministry of Textile Industry has deteriorated.
Once it was under its control, it claimed, the cotton sector’s performance would improve. Besides, cotton crop must be looked after by the food security ministry as it does in case of other cash crops, giving an impression that it was a reincarnation of the defunct ministry of agriculture.
But the textile ministry has rejected the proposal saying cotton has nothing to do with the task of providing food security to the citizens and that it was closely related to the textile industry where it is almost totally consumed.
“Some functions of the federal agriculture ministry had been transferred to the provinces, while other functions had been distributed among four federal ministries resulting in utter confusion and inaction”
The Cotton Wing, which was originally a part of the former Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Livestock (Minfal) was handed over to the Ministry of Textile Industry when agriculture sector was being transferred to the provinces after the 18th amendment.
A similar case is that of the Crops Wing and National Fertiliser Development Centre (NFDC) which were made part of the Planning Commission. The MNFS&R officials say both are directly linked to food and research areas.
While speaking at a meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Food Security on Nov 28, 2015, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a former federal minister and an agriculturist, said some functions of the defunct agriculture ministry had been transferred to the provinces, while other functions had been distributed among four federal ministries resulting in utter confusion and inaction.
On January 12, Federal Minister for Food Security Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan while speaking at a function in his ministry said the performance of agriculture sector had declined particularly after the 18th amendment. He did not elaborate. Similarly, Seerat Asghar, secretary of the ministry, told a Senate committee on December 28 that Parliament had done nothing for the agriculture sector in the last three years. Before the18th amendment, he said, the federal government used to spend Rs60bn on agriculture sector but now the provincial governments have become indifferent towards the rural areas.
Seed management has also became a provincial subject. To amend and replace the obsolete Seed Act 1976, the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments introduced a seed amendment bill in their assemblies. But the process came to a halt after the federal minister for food security said that all the provincial assemblies have passed a special resolution authorising the federal government to amend the Seed Act 1976 and retain it as a federal subject. Taking seed affairs back to the centre was seen a development of great significance.
Meanwhile, European Union Ambassador to Pakistan Jean Francois Cautain says it is high time that Pakistan breaks away from past trade stereotypes and looks beyond textile and leather sectors and invests in other areas. With eight more years to go under the GSP Plus status, Pakistan’s business community must develop value-added sectors.
But two years after the country gained duty-free access to the EU for certain products, there is little to applaud for. The industry has been unable to fully utilise the opportunity. Various factors have contributed to its dismal performance such as over-dependence on textiles and low quality of exports though economic slowdown in Europe is to be equally blamed for the situation. Consumer spending in the EU states is currently subdued, owing to the ongoing crisis in the eurozone.