LAHORE - Being signatory of World Trade Organisation’s regime, Pakistan has no other option but to except opening of trade with India. However, Islamabad can protect its farmers by imposing countervailing duty, as under WTO regime up to 100 per cent duty can be imposed on import of agri products from India, which is also being practiced by the EU as well as the US.

“The EU has presently been imposing duty of 175 euro per ton on Pak rice under this regime,” observed Rice Exporters Association vice chairman Ch Samee Ullah. He suggested that trade of rice should be allowed through Wagha border on immediate basis. High quality Indian basmati rice is grown just 30-KM away from Wahga Lahore, transporting it from Amritsar through Lahore to Karachi Port is time and cost efficient. It is highly opportunistic to import Indian high quality basmati rice from Wahga to Lahore under DTRE and re-export it with value addition through Karachi, he informed.

“For any imports of Indian rice for re-export purposes, a Duty and Tax Remission for Exports (DTRE) scheme should be allowed which could help exporters avoid countervailing and other duties, keeping us price competitive in international markets. The DTRE Scheme would ensure increase export volumes and capacity, helping gain higher foreign exchange of up to $3 billion.” However, in the interest of farmers, he recommended the authorities that after trade liberalisation with India government should keep limit of 100kg bag on import of rice from India while the import items allowed must be only whole grain rice (Maximum 5pc broken) and all by-products must be restricted across the borders.

The REAP warned the commerce ministry that in case farmers interest is not safeguarded, the Association will file application with National Tariff Commission as farmers’ benefit on the top of priority.

The REAP vice chairman stated that as Indian agriculture sector is highly subsidised, bilateral trade with India in rice would knock farmers out of the competition.  “For that, we recommend that import of rice from India for local consumption with in Pakistan is countervailed by imposing countervailing duty in proportionate to the difference of subsidised inputs available by Indian farmer. As India has discriminately imposed 70 per cent duty on import of Pak rice so we need to cater that segment out,” he suggested. 

Pakistan rice export volume can be escalated to $3 billion from existing worth of about $2 billion after opening trade through Wagha, if government takes all stakeholders on board and finalise trade liberalisation policy with India. Ch Samee said that Pakistan can benefit from huge market of around 1.3 billion consumers by opening of trade with India. Instead of bureaucracy, the real stakeholders - manufacturers as well as growers - can turn this opportunity into a blessing that can put two countries on the path of prosperity.