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ISLAMABAD: The government has asked the sugar industry to provide verified and authentic data on sugar stocks in the country to get permission for export of the commodity, which the industry has refused but insisted that the government should allow exports, otherwise the industry will not start crushing season.

This was stated by the federal Minister for National Food Security and Research, Tariq Bashir Cheema, here on Monday while giving a briefing to the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Agricultural Products.

Earlier, the committee elected unopposed National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf as the chairman of the panel.

The minister said that first the members of the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) claimed that the millers have 1.9 million tons in stock and wanted to export one million tons but when the government asked them to provide verified data on the sugar stocks, the millers failed and revised their claim to 1.1 million tons.

He said that 40 percent reduction in sugarcane yield is estimated this year owing to devastating floods as it has destroyed all the major crops in Sindh, Balochistan, and two districts of South Punjab, so, therefore, the government before allowing sugar exports wants assurance from the sugar industry not to create a shortage of the commodity in local market and price escalation. The minister further explained since 2011 the industry was exporting the commodity and during few years got subsidy from the government as prices in the global market were higher than the Pakistani market but this year sugar prices in the global market are high than the local market and the PSMA is desperate to earn profit.

The minister said that the Punjab government has fixed sugarcane price at Rs300 per 40kg which is too high with a clear objective of politicising the matter to embarrass the federal government, adding that the Sindh government will also follow the decision of the Punjab government and is likely to fix sugarcane price at Rs310 per 40kg, which will result in increasing the sugar prices. The minister said that the news items that appeared in some sections of the media regarding the government’s permission to the PSMA of exporting 500,000 tons of sugar were “fake and baseless.”

The committee was informed that the Sindh government has fixed the wheat support price at Rs4,000 while in the meetings with the federal government it kept on advocating to fix the wheat support price at Rs2,800 per 40-kg, adding that the Punjab government has fixed wheat support price at Rs3,000 per 40-kg. He said that being a farmer he will benefit from higher prices but the poor people earning Rs1,000 and below will not benefit from it.

The minister said that on the fixation of high wheat support price in Sindh, he has received a message from Chairman Pakistan People Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and they will discuss it in the next cabinet meeting.

The minister said that the local requirement of sugar stands at 6.5 million tons and if the industry of assuring availability of the product at existing rates, the government will not hesitate to allow exports. He said that out of the total expected surplus stocks, Sindh has 90 percent while the Punjab has only 10 percent.

He said that the sugar industry was pressurising the government for allowing them to export the commodity but as per the past 11 years’ practices, the moment the government permitted millers to export sugar, the next day prices in the local market were increased, the government was forced to allow the import of sugar and the millers not only fetch huge profits from local sales but also gain on the imports as the government has to give them subsidies.

“I have thrice refused to chair the Sugar Advisory Board owing to the pressure tactics of the millers but the prime minister insisted me to take the responsibility and I am not going to allow exports until the industry provides authentic and verified data on stocks,” the minister said. He said to resolve the matter another meeting of the Sugar Advisory Board with industry representatives will be held on coming Thursday and if the industry provided the required authentic data the government will consider their demands. The minister said that the industry is operating like a mafia as it keeps on holding sugarcane growers’ money for years, not starting crushing time and pressurising the government to accept their demands. He said that a viable policy is needed to deal with the sugar industry as it cannot operate by violating the rules.

Responding to a question regarding the special agriculture package for the farmers on power bills, the minister said that unfortunately, so far it has not been notified as the prime minister was on foreign trips and later, he tested positive for coronavirus. He added that now the prime minister has recovered and very soon the government is to notify the package, adding that the government was working on a proposal to provide financial subsidies to the flood-affected farmers through the Benazir Income Support Program.

Taking part in the briefing, Federal Minister for Commerce Syed Naveed Qamar said that the matter of the sugar mills needs immediate resolution as they are exploiting the farmers by not starting the crushing season which is not only delaying the sowing of the wheat crop but also causing financial losses to the sugarcane growers as with every passing day the weight of their product is reducing. He said that the delay in the crushing session will also benefit the millers as it increases the recovery level in sugarcane. The minister said that the millers in Sindh are likely to start crushing within a week.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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