ISLAMABAD    -    A blur trade policy on Himalayan salt production has put its exporters on a bumpy trade road, where they face stern administrative hurdles in business, despite having potential to increase the export of the commodity worldwide.

Pakistan is naturally blessed with around 10 billion tones reserves of salt having 98 percent purity. Salt traders believe that the exports of Pakistani Himalayan salt has though increased in last five year worldwide, but still it is contributing less than its potential.

Arif Awan, a resident of Abottabad, is running his Pak Western salt export company for last one decade. He proudly tells that he was first in the city who opened export bank account in the city. “I had sent first shipment of Himalayan salt to Costa Rica around ten years ago,” he said. Awan, who is a middle grade trader in exports of salt, said that his monthly trade volume of exporting pink salt worldwide fluctuates around Rs100 million to 200 million.

He said because of unclear salt trade policy and lack of support by the government, the exports of this commodity are growing at snail’s pace. Arif said that a middle grade trader in a month exports around fifteen containers.

“There are no international payment services like ‘PayPal’ in the country available for exporters,” he said.

Awan added that where the international buyer has switched to the latest payment modes and adopting services like PayPal for business, Pakistani salt exporter is still stuck to the ‘Export Form’ (E-Form) issued by government.

“This distracts the international buyer and he prefers purchasing Himalayan salt indirectly from any other country,” he said. The Himalayan salt is exported worldwide in the shapes of solid rock, granules, cubes, powder, tiles, lamps and edible forms.

The Pakistani Himalayan salt along with edible purposes is demanded worldwide for medical purposes, animal licking, special bathing therapies, freezing of meat, decoration, breathing therapies, massage and cure of multiple diseases. Another exporter and manufacturer, Anwar Azeem viewed that governments have not come with the encouraging and uniform policy to increase exports of Himalayan salt.

He said where exporters are largely dependent on banks for export and getting foreign remittance, the banks come with different dollar rates.

He added every bank has different dollar rate to offer the salt exporter, while transactions done are also not released to the client in time.

“When government needs dollars it does not inform trader about their remittance, which ultimately results it delaying next shipments,” he said. He also added that poor administration at mines has also shifted the potential business in ‘agent mafia’ hands and exporter has to purchase it from ‘black market’.

Anwar Azeem also said that complex and long procedures of custom clearance and non-availability of industrial area for salt also delays the shipments.

According to official statistics of ministry of commerce, Pakistan’s salt export to world is increasing with Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 34% since 2014. The export has surged from $15.79 million annually to 51.62 million in four years (2014-2018). As per data, the largest importers of Pakistan’s salt include USA, India, China, UK, Germany, Australia, Brazil, Italy, Afghanistan and Canada.

According to Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC), salt in Pakistan is being produced from mines of Khewra, Warcha, KalaBagh, Jatta, Bahadur Khel/Karak. As per PMDC data, annual production of these salt mines in 2018 was 1406363 tons.

Spokesperson ministry of commerce Mohammad Ashraf viewed that the salt is a physical good of trade and government had introduced E-Forms to facilitate the exporters. He said E-Form in trade guarantees secure and transparent method of transactions on foreign remittance. Spokesperson also said that government also approached PayPal services, but the company didn’t opt to start its operations here.

DG marketing PMDC Ghulam Bashir said that PMDC has fixed rates of salt depending on size and quality of the product and any exporter can purchase it. He said there is no agent mafia involved in the business.