Pakistan’s food trade deficit shrank to $1.4 billion in the last fiscal year from $2.43bn a year ago. But a reversal of the trend is clearly in sight during the current fiscal year.
In the first five months of 2018-19, the food trade deficit stands at $954 million. If no major initiatives are taken to boost food exports and contain imports, the full-year deficit may again end up close to $2bn. Even exports of 0.5m tonnes of wheat and wheat products, as suggested by the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, cannot enhance food export earnings to a level to avert this possibility.
In the past, we have seen the food trade deficit growing even in the midst of record wheat and sugar exports.
A delay in the acceptance of some demands of the millers for sugar exports, availability of a smaller surplus of non-basmati rice and an extended ban on deep-sea fishing during this fiscal year, which reduced fish hauling in the first quarter, have diluted the gains in food exports.
As a result, our food export earnings totalled just $1.51bn in five months to November, up only 1.27pc from the year-ago earnings of $1.49bn, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS).
Against this, food imports totalled $2.47bn, down 9.28pc mainly due to the imposition of higher tariffs from $2.72bn in the year-ago period, leaving a gap of $954m.
If sugar exports had begun earlier, production of non-basmati rice varieties in Sindh had not been affected by water scarcity and the authorities had resolved a controversy over the ban on deep-sea fishing on time, total food exports could have been higher.
These factors have actually belittled some gains in food exports so far this fiscal year, like larger basmati shipments and an increase in export earnings of fruits and vegetables.
The main problem with Pakistan’s food exports is that their growth rate is inconsistent. There are many reasons for it, but one of them relates to politics. In the absence of a peaceful political atmosphere, agriculture and food trade suffer a lot.