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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Advisor on Commerce and Investment, Abdul Razak Dawood on Tuesday expressed no-confidence in prices of commodities being collated by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). He was reacting to question at a meeting of Senate Standing Committee on Commerce raised by Senator Mir Kabeer Ahmed Muhammad Shahi about "low prices of local onion and tomato in Balochistan due to import from neighbouring countries.”

Senator Mir Kabeer was of the view that due to import of onion and tomato, growers from Balochistan were not getting due prices of their commodities. He said, fruits and vegetables are being imported legally or illegally.

"Importers who are involved in smuggling from Iran or Afghanistan pay bribe (decided share) to officials at five or six points starting from border check-posts to final destinations and flood markets of Lahore, Gujranwala, etc, with smuggled vegetables and fruits," he added.

Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Commerce Senator Mirza Muhammad Afridi said that smuggling has reduced “substantially” due to effective measures for its eradication which has supported local industry and would be instrumental in promoting economic activities and businesses in the country.

Senator Mir Kabeer stated the prices quoted by the PBS were not accurate as Balochistan's tomato and onion were sold at Rs 15 per kg and Rs 40 kg, respectively, for the last two days. He was of the view that when domestic crops of such commodities are ready in the country, import should not be allowed. He suggested that ban should be imposed on import of such commodities.

He said that people living in areas contiguous to Pak-Iran border use Iranian vegetables, fruits, milk, butter and even Lasi. However, smuggling of fruits and vegetables from Iran and Afghanistan was a very serious issue.

Secretary Commerce clarified that Ministry of National Food Security and Research is consulted before taking any decision on import of agriculture commodities. He argued that if Pakistan imposes ban on products of any country, the latter will reciprocate.

Dawood said that Pakistan’s policy as a whole is not correct as it does not protect local farmers. He further stated that Punjab had demanded a ban on export of potato but growers claimed that they have a surplus crop and requested federal government to impose restriction on export of potato.

He, however, acknowledged that the prices of items such as onion and tomato quoted by the PBS were not accurate.

The committee decided to urge the Commerce Ministry to convene a joint meeting with the Ministry of National Food Security and Research and representatives of Balochistan's growers to formulate a strategy so that they should get reasonable prices of their commodities.

Commerce Advisor further informed the committee that he would hold a meeting with Governor SBP in the next two days to discuss modalities to link small and medium business with E-Commerce. He said SBP is drafting a policy, according to which the central bank will take risk of 40 per cent as commercial banks were not ready to take any such risk.

"If any SME declares default, SBP will clear the liabilities. This will also include IT sector as they dont have collaterals," he added.

Chairman Standing Committee stated that commercial banks have also stopped or reduced lending to the industry due to which they are facing liquidity issues. Senator, Dilawar Khan commented that since the government was taking huge loans from the commercial banks which are secure, then why banks would lend to industry, suggesting that the committee should convene a meeting of Finance Ministry, SBP and commercial banks to discuss this problem and prepare a policy to encourage banks to lend a portion of their portfolio to the industry.

Chief Executive, TDAP, Arif Ahmed Khan, who is also a former Finance Secretary, supported the proposal of a joint meeting to sort this issue.

Senator Mirza Muhammad Afridi said that the sick units need to be facilitated to ensure their revival.

The Committee was also briefed about the steps being taken towards exploring new markets for dates, tax evasion on computer, laptops and other IT equipments, as well as the issues of under-invoicing.

Senator Dilawar Hussain while talking about the Afghan Transit Trade said that due to the deficiency of trackers, there is a huge pressure on transit points. He said that an appropriate solution to this is required. Chairman of the Committee Senator Mirza Afridi said that trade is the backbone of the national economy and an appropriate strategy should be followed to promote business activities in the country.

Secretary Commerce informed the Committee that E-Commerce policy has been introduced and the Committee in its next meeting will be informed about a framework in this regard.

Chairman of the Committee appreciated these measures, however, he emphasized that sick units need to be supported so as to cater to the local requirements as well as export-oriented units. Senator Dilawar Khan informed the Committee that Trade and Development Authority (TDAP) could not hold even a single meeting so far. He further stated that he had sought some details from TDAP which have not been provided yet. Senator Mirza Afridi said that TDAP is an important organization, its board should hold regular meetings to deal with different issues and the people of Pakistan should have access to information.

He further said that a question has been raised about Trade and Commercial Attachés posted in different countries who should improve their efficiency and awareness must be created about Pakistani products in foreign countries. The Committee insisted on provision of facilities and capacity building of the tobacco farmers in Mardan, Charsada and Swabi districts. Committee was further informed that a project in collaboration with Swabi University has moved ahead.

Senator Dilawar Khan emphasized that all the stakeholders must be taken into confidence as quality tobacco of the country is produced in these areas and national exchequer gets taxes worth billions of rupees. About the export of dates, the Committee was informed that 70% of dry dates were exported to India and due to suspension of trade with India , farmers have faced huge losses. However, efforts are being made to explore alternative markets for export of dates and different countries have been contacted in this regard. Chairman Committee emphasized that these efforts must be expedited to avoid losses to the farmers.

Senator Rana Mehmoodul Hassan suggested that a policy for installation of small sugar mills should be introduced to promote compatibility in the market. Secretary Commerce informed the committee that such a proposal is already under consideration in different ministries.

The Committee was also apprised about clearance of containers at Port Qasim as well as money laundering issues in the country.

Chairman Standing Committee directed FBR to sort out the issue of containers. He also directed that those IT companies which were involved in under invoicing / money laundering, should first be penalized and then allowed to do business in the country.

The meeting was attended by Senators Mir Kabeer Ahmad Muhammad Shahi, Zeesahn Khanzada, Nuzhat Sadiq, Dilawar Khan, Rana Mehmood ul Hassan, Advisor to Prime Minister for Commerce, Secretary Commerce and other senior official of relevant departments.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020