By Sajjad Hussain
Islamabad, Sep 26 (PTI) Pakistan's leading businessmen and economists have asked the government to take emergency measures to import food from neighbouring countries, including India, in the wake of possible food shortages following the devastating floods that destroyed standing crops in thousands of acres in the country.
The Pakistan Businessmen and Intellectual Forum (PBIF) said in a statement that the government should abolish all taxes until the country's agricultural production situation improves and returns to normalcy.
"We urge the government to allow imports from all four neighbouring countries," the PBIF statement quoted its President Zahid Hussain as saying.
He said that the war between Russia and Ukraine had caused a lot of damage to global agriculture and the prices of all agricultural commodities had skyrocketed.
"The grain which fell prey to this with the biggest impact was wheat, whose prices jumped record high, and now following the disastrous floods, its entire crop standing on millions of acres wiped out in Pakistan," said the statement.
Although imports from Iran and Afghanistan were allowed, the supply of foreign exchange to importers was stopped which increased the cost of their business significantly, it said.
It said while India was the best choice for quick and cheap food import, it was not allowed by the government as the mainstream opposition could use it as a weapon for political advantage.
"In the absence of direct trade with India, Indian and Pakistani businessmen are forced to trade through the United Arab Emirates at extra cost," it said.
The government should give priority to the welfare of the people and give preference to the neighbouring countries instead of importing agricultural products from distant countries.
Moreover, if USD 17 billion or Rs 4000 billion are given to Pakistani farmers in the form of interest-free loans there can be a revolution in the country's agricultural production, it said.
Otherwise, the situation could worsen even further by 2050, when Pakistan’s population is projected to reach 380 million, it warned.
Pakistan has reported over USD 40 billion of economic losses due to floods and there is fear that damage to crops may result in a food crisis.
However, despite throwing positive feelers, the government has been hesitant to allow imports from India.
On Sunday, former prime minister Imran Khan said that his government had snapped trade ties with India after New Delhi revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 and claimed that the Shehbaz Sharif-led government wanted to resume it.
In recent weeks, several business chambers have urged the government to import essential items like onion and tomato from India for the sake of consumers in the wake of soaring prices of the vegetables following the devastating floods in the country.
Relations between India and Pakistan have often been strained over the Kashmir issue and cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
However, the ties between the two countries nosedived after India abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcating the State into two Union Territories on August 5, 2019.
India’s decision evoked strong reactions from Pakistan, which downgraded diplomatic ties and expelled the Indian envoy. Trade ties between Pakistan and India have largely been frozen since then.
As per the official data, more than 1,600 people have been killed and over 33 million affected due to the massive floods since mid-June, leaving the government at the mercy of international support. PTI SH ZH AKJ ZH