By Ahmad Fraz Khan
Exporters have regularly been complaining about the numerous agencies – customs and anti-narcotic force – that open export containers mid-way for inspection. They not only delay the shipments but also affect the quality of perishable items
As the kinnow export season starts, farmers are hoping for the best. They have some valid reasons for this optimism. New markets, like Indonesia, have been added to the export list.
Long and tedious work on countries like Malaysia is expected to pay dividends this season. The crop is healthy and around 14 groups and farms are Global Gap certified now.
If things remain on track, the country should be able to export anywhere between 350,000-400,000 tons. Though it may appear to be a healthy figure in the history of kinnow export, it is by no means satisfactory given the potential it has. As experts believe, the export can easily shoot beyond one million tons within a matter of few years with proper planning and execution. Total world citrus market stands at well above $2 billion with Pakistan having only a share of $200 million in it.
For the last one decade, the Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Company (PHDEC) helped multiply horticulture exports by setting up domestic launching pad; facilitating international certification for farms and exporters, linking domestic traders with international buyers and working as a bridge between different government institutions and exporters.
However, over the last three years, the company, working under the commerce ministry, is under a steady budgetary squeeze unable to secure money even for routine expenditures; its employees are now running from pillar to post for salaries.
The planners need to realise that there are certain areas where the private sector cannot help exports grow. Take an example of the banking sector linkage. For the last few years, as the Russian and Iranian markets opened up for Pakistani kinnow, exporters are having payment problems from both these markets.
If it is not solved on priority basis, Pakistan can easily loose both markets that now consume more than half of kinnow exports. Only the government can create efficient linkage, which help exports. It also needs a dedicated agency that documents, preferably pre-empts, such problems and keep the export process smooth. The federal government seems to be losing the agency it already has.
Second, there are certain trade pacts which only governments can negotiate, like the recent preferential trade agreement (PTA) signed between Pakistan and Indonesia in which both states mutually brought duties down on palm oil and kinnow exports. The PTA now needs a lot of follow up work, which is stuck in bureaucratic muddle. There are few other countries, like Sri Lanka, which have slapped duties on kinnow, and Pakistan needs to negotiate the case with Sri Lankans. Only dedicated agencies like the PHDEC could follow up such special matters.
Similarly, on the domestic front, the government also needs such agencies to continuously update domestic realities and calibrate them to international demands. One such problem has been pre-shipment inspection (PSI), which is almost a must for exports but exporters have been resisting it for their own reasons. Instead of removing exporters’ grievances on the issue and continuing with the process, the government has simply done away with the PSI process. It has done so at the risk of its credibility, and regularly suffers consequences in the shape of export bans or other problems. The world has grown quality conscience, especially the high-end markets. Pakistan cannot escape this reality.
Exporters have regularly been complaining about the numerous agencies – customs and anti-narcotic force – that open export containers mid-way for inspection. They not only delay the shipments but also affect the quality of perishable items.
Without these agencies getting involved, some unscrupulous exporters try to send illegal items aboard and bring bad name to the country.
With their involvement, exports get delayed and affected beyond reasonable time limit. All these matters need continuous monitoring, solution and up dating. Only an expert body can solve the problem.
Such agencies are needed after agriculture getting devolved to province after the 18th constitutional amendment. Now provinces have to plan such exports, while keeping in view the larger national picture. An umbrella body, which could coordinate such export efforts, is required more than ever now if the country has to maintain horticulture momentum.