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ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of National Food Security and Research have, reportedly, locked horns over a proposal regarding import of cotton from Central Asian Republics (CARs) via Afghanistan till June 2022, sans Pest Risk Analysis (PRA), well-informed sources told Business Recorder.

The textile sector of Pakistan, consumes approximately 12 to 17 million bales (170 Kgs) of cotton per annum but domestic production of cotton has been very low in comparison to the demand in last one and half decade.

Pakistan is net cotton importer and has been importing on average 3.0 million bales per annum in last three years. Moreover, this year, ie, FY 2020-21, the cotton production target was 10.89 million bales, however in the 1st & 2nd Cotton Crop Assessment Committee (CCAC) meetings, cotton production was estimated to be 8.59 and 7.70 million bales respectively. Therefore, in order to bridge the gap between local production and demand it is imperative for Pakistan to import cotton.

Furthermore, Pakistani cotton is of short to medium staple length, therefore, long and extra-long staple cotton has to be imported for production of finer yarn counts, for subsequent transformation into high value-added finished products. Cotton is imported from various sources with the land route being the cheapest option.

The Commerce Ministry argues that Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs) are one of the top importing sources after all imports from India were banned, resultantly, reliance on Afghanistan and CARs for cotton imports has increased.

The cotton import is governed by Plant Quarantine Act, 1976/Rules, 1967. According to the Rule 28 of Plant Quarantine Act, 1976, cotton imports are allowed through the sea-route only, since quarantine facilities are only available at Karachi. In 2017-18 a special dispensation from the rule was given on political/commercial basis during a meeting between Secretary Commerce and Deputy Minister for Industries & Commerce, Afghanistan.

Consequently in years 2018-19 and 2019-20, import of cotton from Afghanistan and Central Asia through land route via Torkham was allowed on yearly basis after the approval of the ECC of the cabinet, provided that all Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) conditions are fulfilled.

Commerce Ministry noted that considering the gap between supply and demand and to ensure availability of cotton for exports, Afghanistan and Central Asian States are economical sources for cotton import. Keeping in view the entire scenario, Commerce Ministry has proposed that: (i) import from Afghanistan and Central Asian States may be allowed till 30 June 2022; (ii) Ministry of National Food Security & Research (MNFS&R) and Commerce Division may engage the importers for establishment of facilities at Torkham, for cotton imports through land route; and (iii) necessary arrangements may be initiated in the plant quarantine Rules, in order to facilitate and meet SPS requirements for import of cotton via land routes.

However, Ministry of National Food Security and Research in its views has stated that cotton is high bio-security risk commodity and import of cotton from any country without conducting Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) can lead to influx of scores of quarantine and incorrigible diseases in Pakistan. It’s importation into Pakistan is also prohibited under Pakistan Plant Quarantine Rules, 2019 read with Pakistan Plant Quarantine Act, 1976.

Pakistan is importing ginned cotton from various countries under the provisions of agreed phytosanitary import conditions; with importation prohibited under Rule, l0 (1) (permit subject to pest risk analysis) of PQR, 2019, which stipulates that. 'Plant and plant products shall not be imported into Pakistan for commercial purposes unless the pest risk analysis is carried out by the Department based on the standards of the Convention subject to such restrictions and conditions as it deems fit to impose'.

However, Ministry of National Food Security and Research stated that Pest Risk Analysis between Pakistan and Afghanistan is under process and DPP shared technical audit report with the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, on November 26, 2019 for onward sharing with the Afghanistan side.

Following clarification from MALL/NPPO of Afghanistan was sought with reply still awaited: (i) area-wise cultivation and production; (ii) cotton insect pest data; (iii) pesticide registered on cotton specific insect/pests; (iv) official inspection procedure for export consignment of cotton; and (v) fumigation procedure/chemicals.

PRA process will further proceed after receipt of response from Afghanistan. DPP has proposed that the import of cotton may only be allowed after finalization of PRA as per provisions of the rules.

The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet is expected to take up this issue in its next meeting.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021