Provinces cautious about India’s highly-subsidised agriculture sector

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Munawar Hasan


Agriculture trade with India

LAHORE: The provincial governments’ representatives have expressed caution over competing with the highly-subsidised agriculture sector of India, even though all of them have shown unanimity in continuing trade liberalisation with the neighboring country, according to an official document available with The News.

Provinces’ representatives expressed their opinions at an inter-ministerial meeting convened by the Federal Ministry of Commerce in the federal capital on November 15, 2012. The meeting’s agenda was to discuss matters related to agriculture trade with India and to solicit suggestions from relevant departments in this regard.

The meeting, which was chaired by Robina Ather, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Commerce, was participated by officials from the agriculture departments of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and Punjab.

As per the meeting’s recorded proceedings, Robina Ather said that Pakistan and India were in the process of normalising bilateral trade relations and Pakistan notified the negative trade list with India.

“Pakistan’s agriculture sector has a few concerns in the wake of trade liberalisation with India vis-à-vis subsidies provided to its agriculture sector by India,” she said. “The two countries are agrarian economies with food-security related issues existing on both sides.”

Therefore, she added, as per the government of Pakistan’s existing policy, wheat and sugar trade was regulated by the public sector. As regards cotton, vegetable and fruits, she added, these are already being traded between India and Pakistan.

However, she said, there were issues related to the import of rice from India. She also emphasised that agriculture commodities were always in high demand in the local market due to seasonal phenomenon.

Also speaking on the occasion, Hidayatullah, director general of Sindh Agriculture Department, reported that the department had meetings with stakeholders from the province, particularly the growers and business community, whereas there was no disagreement on allowing the import of agriculture products from India.

According to him, huge subsidies and support prices provided to India’s agriculture sector on diesel, fertiliser, and electricity would make Pakistan’s agriculture produce less competitive in relation to India. Secondly, there were colossal post-harvest losses in Pakistan due to lack of technology.

Underscoring Sindh’s agriculture scope, he said that chilli, banana, rice, onion, turnips, spinach, dates and wheat cultivated in the province had immense potential in the Indian market. He suggested that the Munabao-Khokhrapar route could be opened for trade with India to the benefit of the province, particularly Thatta, Badin and Mirpurkhas. For him, opening of trade through this route would turn Umarkot on the Pakistani side and Mithi on the Indian side into active trading zones.

He underlined that infrastructure could be built and state-of-the-art agriculture machinery be introduced in the province to avoid crop damage during processing. He informed the meeting that to develop the province’s agriculture sector, the Sindh government in collaboration with the federal government, was making Export Processing Zones across the province such as the ones in Karachi, Khairpur, Nawabshah, Sanghar, etc.

Director General Agriculture Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Abdur Rashid stated that the province’s agriculture produce has an enormous potential in the Indian market.

Commenting on trade with India, he said that as India was heavily subsidising its agriculture sector, the government could consider providing a similar pattern of subsidies in Pakistan so that the agriculture sector could become competitive.

Nevertheless, he added, India was manufacturing high-tech agriculture machinery and its import from India would definitely enhance Pakistan’s productivity by reducing wastage and lowering input cost.

Masuud Ahmed, director of Baluchistan Agriculture Department, said that commodities such as onions, fruit, dates, etc. had great export potential.

“Presently, there is cultivation of apples on 8,000 hectores of land and dates on 60,000 hectors in the province,” he said.

He also emphasised on developing infrastructure, such as warehouses, cold storages, roads etc. and suggested that an exhibition of Pakistan’s agri products in India should be organised.

Dr Muhammad Anjum, director general of Punjab Agriculture Department, observed that due to subsidies given to the agriculture sector in India, agriculture products’ import from India could negatively affect Punjab’s agriculture sector. Therefore, a cautious approach should be adopted during the process of opening trade with India. Furthermore, he proposed agriculture centres be opened in all districts of Pakistan for agriculture research purpose.

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