ISLAMABAD

The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet on Thursday decided to extend zero-rated facility on the import of potatoes in a bid to stop further increase in commodity price that is already skyrocketing in the country.

The ECC, chaired by Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar, has approved the summary of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research for extension in date for the permission for the import of potatoes with zero duty. It was informed to the ECC that if immediate duty free import of commodity is not allowed, than the potatoes would be selling at very high price during Ramadan.

The government is struggling to reduce the potatoes prices from more than last three months despite taking several actions. The Finance Minister, who brought the dollar rate to below Rs 100, is failed to decrease the potatoes prices. Ishaq Dar in April 2014 had given three days deadline to profiteers and hoarders to reduce the price commodity prices. Failing to get desire results, the government on April 25th, 2014 allowed duty free import of potatoes to bring down the high prices manipulated by hoarders and middlemen. However, all went in vain, as potatoes are still trading at over Rs 60 per kg in the country. Therefore, the top economic decision-making body of the country yesterday (Thursday) has decided to extend the zero-rated facility for importing potatoes in the country. The Finance Minister also approved appropriate measures to control the prices, in coordination with the provincial governments.

The ECC allowed the import of 100,000 metric tons of potatoes in addition to already approved 200,000 metric tons at zero duties; this extension will continue till November 15, 2014 when the new crop is expected. The Finance Minister said that it is our obligation to stabilise the prices of essential commodities during the month of Ramadan. We have given the Ramadan Package of Rs.2 billion to serve the consumers and due to this subsidy package price of essential commodities remained under control, he added.

The ECC also considered a summary presented by Ministry of Industries and Production for the provision of natural gas as feed stock in the direct reduced iron process (DRI) to Tuwairqi Steel Mills Limited on concessional rates. Altuwairiqi Group of Company had signed an MoU with the Government of Pakistan on 28 May, 2004 for provision of 40 MMCFD gas for use as feed stock and 30 MMCFD for use as fuel on the same industrial rates as applicable to other such industries.  The ECC formed a committee comprising members from Finance Division, Board of Investment, Ministry of Petroleum, Ministry of Law and Justice and Ministry of Industries to study all aspects of the above mentioned MoU and present a report to the ECC.  The Finance Minister said that agreements should be made on well thought out plans and such promises should not be made which are not-implementable. The Finance Minister also directed the concerned ministries to prepare an integrated energy plan for the next four years which could include parameters for investment, power generation, distribution and transmission aspects.

The ECC also considered a summary of the Ministry of Water and Power for approval of Standardised Security Agreements (Project Agreements) for Biomass based power generation projects on IPP mode. The ECC was informed that the draft energy purchase agreement and draft implementation agreement for biomass base projects is on the cost plus basis. The ECC after detailed discussions decided that there should be no place for cost plus basis purchase agreements. Instead, up-front tariff mode approved by Nepra should also be applied on biomass and bigasse projects. The ECC further directed that no specific contract between two parties should be brought up before the ECC for consideration and only standardised draft agreements will be considered. The summary was deferred till a detailed presentation by Nepra in this regard.

The meeting was also attended by Senator Pervaiz Rashid, Minister for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage, Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Planning and Development, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources, Zahid Hamid, Minister for Science and Technology, Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan, Minister for National Food Security, Abbas Khan Afridi, Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources, Ms. Anusha Rehman Khan, MOS for IT and Telecom, Federal Secretaries and senior officials of the government.