The farmers’ main representative body has said it will not oppose the import of agricultural products from India under the current situation. “We have no objection if the government allows onion and tomato import through Wagah-Attari or other routes,” Pakistan Kisaan Ittehad (PKI) President Umair Masood said while talking to Minute Mirror on Wednesday.
The PKI is the leading organisation representing thousands of farmers from all over the country. It has long been opposing the free trade of agricultural products with India. The prices of vegetables, particularly onions and tomatoes, witnessed a 200 to 400 percent increase during the last few days.
While they are being sold in Lahore and other major cities at Rs400 and Rs300 per kg, respectively, their prices in India are INR 15, equal to PKR 40 per kg in Pakistan. Umair held middlemen and market traders responsible for the hike, saying farmers were selling vegetables at comparatively lesser prices. Pakistan banned trade with India in protest against New Delhi’s decision to dilute the special status of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) in 2019.
Recent floods destroyed crops on thousands of acres in Sindh, southern Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, creating the worst demand-supply gap and increasing prices massively. The PKI leader said they had announced to resist the government’s moves to allow free trade with India in the past for numerous factors and mainly due to competitive reasons. New Delhi, he said, provided different subsidies to its farmers to keep down the prices and it simply meant that the grant of non-discriminatory market access (NDMA) to New Delhi without safeguarding the interests and the future of Pakistani farmers would badly harm them and impact the long-term food security of people.
“We demand that the farmers be given full representation on the India-Pakistan Joint Trade Forum and allowed to negotiate safeguards against cheap agricultural imports from across the border.” In a recent meeting at the Ministry of Commerce, Pakistan Fruit and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Merchant Association had already called for a lifting ban on the import of agricultural products from the neighbouring country for three months, a member of the association said.
The government, however, was reluctant to take the step due to political backlash. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was quick to react to the reports as its spokesperson Chaudhry Fawad opposed the consideration through a Twitter message. Religious parties were also a strict opponent of building any trade relations with India. The opposition had vehemently criticised the appointment of a trade minister in the Pakistan Embassy in New Delhi in May, forcing the Shehbaz Sharif government to issue a clarification that there was no change in [past] trade policy with India.
Islamabad on Tuesday announced importing onions and tomatoes from Iran and Afghanistan. But Umair believed the import from the two countries would be insufficient to meet the current demand. Floods, he said, destroyed almost 60 to 80 per cent of onion and tomato crops in Sindh – the main supplier of early vegetables in the marketplace. The crops in Punjab, he added, would take a couple of months to reach markets and until then there was no harm in buying them from India. The monthly countrywide demand for onions and tomatoes is 150,000 tonnes and 50,000 tonnes, respectively, against the current supply of over 60 per cent of both, according to market sources.