LAHORE - The Punjab government has recommended the federal government to allow wheat import of up to 0.5 million metric tons by the private sector, proposing the centre to reduce import duty as well as withholding tax on imported grain.

PFMA chairman Syed Zahoor Ahmed Agha said that the move was necessary to avert wheat and flour crisis in the country. The association had also written a letter to the ministry of agriculture to allow flour mills to import 500,000 tons of wheat.

The PFMA was of the view that wheat production, which stood at 24.3 million tons, is not enough to meet local demand this year. They added that hoarders were not selling wheat till prices rose. “The import will compel hoarders to release the wheat at this time of need. Moreover, the import will also bring the price of wheat and flour lower at local markets. The landed cost of wheat from India will be cheaper by Rs400-500 per 100kg than the local wheat. The landed cost of Indian wheat is around Rs2,900 per 100 kilogram compared to Rs3,500 per 100 kilogram of Pakistani wheat.

Food Department officials said that provincial government had set up a committee, comprising Food Minister, Chief Secretary, Secretary Law and Secretary Food for release of wheat and fixing its price. After detailed discussion with the stakeholders, the committee recommended the Punjab chief minister as well as the federal government to allow private sector to import up to 0.5 million metric tons of wheat so that there is no shortage of wheat and flour in the country.

Provincial Minister for Food, Bilal Yasin, in a statement, said that decision was taken because KPK and Balochistan government had not purchased wheat in abundant quantity.  He said that the committee has also recommended not imposing ban on transportation of wheat to other provinces. He said that currently Punjab government has 4 million metric tons of wheat reserves and the decision regarding its import has been taken to ensure strategic storage.

Sources said that a group of flour millers as well as some growers’ associations have been opposing the government’s decision of allowing wheat import from Russia and India on the plea that their wheat quality is inferior while grain stock in the country is sufficient, though the fact is that the import move has improved the supply of wheat and brought price of flour lower and would force the hoarders to sell their stock.

The Pakistan Flour Mills Association (PFMA), at the start of the current month, had demanded the authorities to allow wheat import particularly from India due to government’s inability to meet its wheat procurement target.

However, chairman of FPCCI standing committee on flour milling Dr Bilal Sufi and vice chairman Mukhtar Ahmed were of the view that on economic front, country is facing many challenges but the matter of food security with reference to wheat is satisfactory.

“We have about 7.5 million tons of wheat in the government godowns which is in line with our annual requirement. As per province-wise details, Punjab has wheat stock of 4.2 million tons, Sindh has 1 million tons, KPK has 1 million tons, Passco 2.2 million tons, showing a total of 7.5 million tons in the country.” In addition to this, wheat open market has also some stocks of about 0.5 million tons, they added.

In a letter written to PM Nawaz Sharif, the PFMA Founders’ Group Chairman observed that this year Punjab seems to be comfortable enough as it will fulfill the needs of people of Punjab provided if the management is good. Sindh, Balochistan and KPK may have problems but for fulfilling their needs Passco stocks can be used as per their genuine requirements and out of Passco stocks 1.5 million tons can be given to all the four provinces including Punjab if needed.

Agri Forum Pakistan Chairman Dr Ibrahim Mughal said Pakistan never had the need to import wheat if Punjab province had met its production target.

He said this year production target of the province was 19.2 million tons while it could achieve only 18.6 million tons.