ISLAMABAD-The government on Monday has decided to import 0.3 million tonnes of wheat and also reduced Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC) on fertilizers to ensure supply of cheap fertilizers to the farmers.

A meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet (ECC) chaired by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue, Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh has allowed import of 0.3 million tonnes of wheat to decrease the local wheat price and meet the domestic requirement. Under the decision, the wheat would be imported by the private sector by withdrawing regulatory duty to the extent of the approved quantity. The ECC further decided that the wheat to be imported under the ECC decision would be allowed in the country until 31st March 2020 to ensure that the local wheat to be available from the start of April was picked up at the right price from the market. The ECC also issued instruction for the immediate release of stocks held by the PASSCO and the provincial departments.

The government has decided to import wheat in order to maintain the stocks at the minimum level of 0.2 million tonnes. The government could not make the decision of importing wheat earlier despite reduction in its crop. According to the data of the ministry of national food security and research, wheat reserves stood at 7.775 million tonnes as against 11.37 million tonnes at the same time last year, showing a reduction. The country has produced 24.12 million tonnes of wheat against the target of 25.5 million tonnes from an area of 8.833 million hectares during the Rabi season 2018-19. Rains coupled with hailstorms have affected wheat crop in the country and reduced the size of the wheat crop by 1.28 million tonnes. The next two months are quite important as next crop of wheat would start coming in by March end in Sindh and by April end in the Punjab. In order to maintain the strategic reserves at desired levels, the federal government has decided to import wheat.

Besides the import of wheat, the ECC approved a proposal by the Ministry of Industries and Production to reduce the GIDC on gas consumed by the fertilizer manufacturers from Rs 405 to Rs 5 per bag so that this benefit could be passed on to the farmers. The reduction in GIDC will decrease the fertiliser prices. The step will slash the price of urea by twenty percent, which was earlier charged from the farmers in lieu of GIDC.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had issued directives to provide relief to farmers by reducing the prices of urea.

ECC also allowed the raising of Rs200 billion on the request of Ministry of Energy (Power Division) from the Islamic Banks as fresh facility through Power Holding Limited by way of issuance of Pakistan Energy Sukuk-II against assets of the DISCOs/GENCOs as collateral through open competitive bidding to procure financing in a fair and transparent manner. The amount will be utilised for the purpose of the funding the repayment liabilities of the DISCOs.

ECC approved the proposed mechanism by the Ministry of Finance for the grant of Sovereign guarantees. All requests for government guarantees are to be accompanied by request for guarantee by the governing body of PSE’s. Further every request must be reviewed and endorsed by the concerned Administrative Ministry/Department of the relevant entity.

Audited Financial statements of previous year prior to issuance of guarantee is mandatory for evaluation of guarantee request. Business plan including an explanation of the business model and financial projections for at least 5 years;

•A note explaining the following;

1.Whether its need for guarantee is short term or long term

2.Business model followed by the entity since inception or over the last 5 years, whichever is less

3.Financial as well as non-financial performance of the entity since its inception or over the last five years, whichever is less

4.Request, along with justification, for the type and amount of guarantee needed by the entity and the timelines over which it is required

The Finance Division shall evaluate the request internally and finalize its recommendations with the approval of the Finance Secretary. ECC also approved the report on proposed exemption of 5% sales tax on cotton seed cake. It was briefed to the ECC that in case the exemption of sales tax on Cotton Seed Cake cannot be introduced during CFY 2019-20, the same can be considered for inclusion in the Finance Bill of 2020-2021.

The approval of Technical Supplementary Grant of Rs. 96.652 million of National Book Foundation in favor of Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training was also granted by ECC.

Technical Supplementary Grant amounting to Rs 15 million for centralized procurement of ICT infrastructure to ensure e-readiness of Federal Government for implementation of E-Governance program was also approved.

ECC granted approval to the request of the Ministry of Interior for the Technical Supplementary Grant amounting to 458 million for payment of subsistence allowance to Personnel of Civil Armed Forces deployed in UN Peacekeeping Missions.