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ISLAMABAD: The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet has allowed import of additional 800,000 metric tons of raw and white sugar by incentivising sugar mills in terms of reduction in withholding income tax on commercial import of white and raw sugar from 5.5 percent to 0.25 percent, and removal of value-added sales tax on white sugar, with a view to arresting the upward trend in this essential prices of the commodity.

The ECC meeting presided over by Finance and Revenue Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh Wednesday, in its response to a summary of the Ministry of Industries and Production for import of sugar to reduce upward pressure on prices of sugar and to buffer up carryover stocks before the arrival of the fresh crop, decided to import 300,000 tons of raw sugar and 500,000 tons of white sugar.

The ECC meeting approved a reduction in withholding income tax on commercial import of white sugar and raw sugar form 5.5 percent to 0.25 percent, and removal of value-added sales tax on import of white sugar, and stated that the reduction in taxes would incentivise sugar mills on the import of 300,000 metric tons raw sugar up to 30th June 2021.

The meeting directed the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) to import white sugar up to 500,000 metric tons, if and when needed, during the current season.

The ECC also approved the request of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research to authorise the TCP to make immediate arrangements for the import of 300,000 metric tons of wheat through a tendering process as ratified by the cabinet, and nominate the PASSCO as a recipient agency for the imported wheat to replenish its stock as needed.

The ECC approved another summary by the Ministry of National Food Security and Research regarding allocation of 60,000 metric tons of wheat for Food Department, Balochistan from the PASSCO’s existing stock on the subsidised rate as per previous practice.

The Ministry of Religions Affairs and Interfaith Harmony presented a summary for scaling up of “Road to Makkah Pilot Project” from Islamabad airport to two more cities - Karachi and Lahore - to facilitate Hujjaj for performing Hajj under the government scheme.

One of the pre-conditions for scaling up of the Project was grant of special exemption on the import of technical equipments in Pakistan by the Saudi Arabia.

The ECC decided that the FBR will hold a separate consultation with the Ministry of Religions Affairs and Interfaith Harmony to work out details, and the matter would be placed before the next ECC for its approval.

The Aviation Division presented a summary before the ECC to reconstitute a high-powered committee headed by the deputy chairman Planning Commission, including secretary finance, secretary aviation and secretary Law and Justice Division, to deliberate on financial challenges faced by the Roosevelt Hotel, New York, the US. The Committee approved their request.

The secretary communication presented a detailed National Freight and Logistics Policy (NFLP) framework before the ECC.

The members acknowledged the efforts made by the ministry in drawing up a comprehensive draft policy, and directed the Ministry of Communications to identify and segregate actionable items, which fall under its domain and place before the next ECC meeting for final approval.

The meeting decided that the proposals pertaining to other ministries and provinces would be considered separately under some institutional arrangement at an appropriate forum.

The ECC meeting also approved a draft policy on equity investment abroad by residents/firms to cater to the needs of the business community, and aims to improve the ease of doing business, promote exports, and facilitate resident companies in raising capital from abroad. The meeting was told that it would also fulfill legitimate investment needs of the individuals.

The ECC meeting accorded approval for the exemption of sales tax @ 17 percent and additional sales tax @ three percent on the import of 52 fire-fighting vehicles by Sindh Infrastructure Development Company Limited (SIDCL), and decided that the gas rate of Rs772/MMBTU will be applicable on Agritech and Fatima Fertiliser post November 2020 till January 2021 as requested by the Ministry of Industries and Production.

On a summary moved by the National Highways Authority (NHA), the ECC accorded its approval to the proposal that outstanding mark-up accrued till date on all CDL/FRL on the NHA would be capitalised as on 30 June 2020, with a moratorium on further accrual of mark-up till finalisation of the business plan.

The Ministry of Communications updated the ECC regarding progress made in conversion of the NHA loans into government loans as per the last ECC meeting held on December 2, 2020. The NHA requested for a time period of nine months to prepare a commercially-viable business plan in consultation with other ministries.

The NHA’s debt restructuring would be linked with the outcome of the said business plan. The ECC approved a technical supplementary grants of; (a) Rs10 million for the purchase of spare parts for the helicopter maintenance by Headquarter Frontier Corps, Balochistan; (b) Rs67,459,100 to the Ministry of Interior for the payment to hired solicitors for pursuing cases in the UK; (c) Rs81.40 million to the Ministry of Law and Justice for the establishment of three new Courts; (d) Rs16.628 billion to the Ministry of Planning Development and Special Initiatives for the completion of 21 schemes of Sindh Infrastructure Development Company Limited; (e) Rs82.5 million for the completion of the project titled, “1000 Industrial Stitching Units all over Pakistan” by Ministry of Industries and Production; (f) Rs300 million for the completion of the project titled “KA7151 Establishment of 132 KV Grid Station at Bin Qasim Industrial Park” by the Ministry of Industries and Production.

A draft Textiles and Apparel Policy, 2020-25 by the Ministry of Commerce was postponed to the next ECC for a detailed discussion.

Federal Minister for Interior Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, Minister for Privatisation Mohammad Mian Soomro, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar, Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar, Adviser to the PM on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood, Minister for Petroleum Omer Ayub, Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi, SAPM on Revenue Dr Waqar Masood, SAPM on Energy Nadeem Babar, Adviser to the PM on Institutional Reforms and Austerity Dr Ishrat Hussain, and Minister for National Food Security and Research Syed Fakhar Imam, participated in the meeting.

State Bank of Pakistan Governor Dr Reza Baqir participated through a video link.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021