Lahore, Nov. 24 (NNN): Islamabad has rejected an Indian request for lifting a two-year ban on its wheat import, asserting that Pakistan will not accept any grain from it, The nation quoting officials sources here reported on Wednesday.
Pakistan imports small amounts of agricultural products from India, including pulses and raw chillies, but import of most of the other items are officially banned.
Islamabad banned the import of Indian grain two years back, saying that it was contaminated by Karnal bunt fungus. India rejected the charge, while, Pakistani traders termed the ban politically motivated.
It is maintained that Karnal bunt is not dangerous to humans or animals but it emits a foul odour and alters the colour of contaminated grain. Another official said the ministry had suggested that the government import wheat from either Australia or the United States.
According to traders imports from India would be the most economical option for Pakistan because of lower freight costs given the land border between the countries.
“Every other country is buying wheat from India, except Pakistan - it is more a political move,” a wholesale food grain trader said about the continuing ban.
Meanwhile, imports of Indian grain via third countries or for onward shipment continued unabated.
But the officials claim, “there is a total ban on the import or overland transportation of Indian wheat. “Earlier in August, past, Pakistan rejected request to allow the import of 200,000 tonne of Indian wheat, citing its concern about fungus.
It also barred the UN World Food Programme from transporting Indian grain to Afghanistan via Pakistan last year.Although large quantities of produce are smuggled from India into Pakistan, analysts say Islamabad is worried that permitting imports would enable its giant rival to dominate the market both at home and in Afghanistan.
Pakistan consumes a little over 20 million tonne of wheat annually Officials say the lower harvest is not immediately expected to affect supply as the country has carry-over stocks of more than a million tonne.
According to experts Indian wheat sales in south and south-east Asia have hurt Australian and US grain exports. Almost half of Indian wheat exports last year were made to south-east Asia. The Indian government was yet to decide on renewal of wheat exports.
Till the late 1990s, India and Pakistan were wheat importers, with India buying two million tonne and Pakistan four million tonne. Market experts that declining production and strong exports have caused Indian wheat stocks to plummet from 23 million tonne just two years ago to an expected level of less than seven million tonne by the end of this year.
Consequently 2003/04 production was revised downward this month to 65 million tonne, making it the smallest crop in seven years. Notwithstanding this, experts said, due to smaller production and higher prices, exports have continued to be strong as shipments have continued against outstanding sales.
The export estimate for India has been raised this month to four million tonne. The declining stock situation will likely be a key factor in the determination of government support for wheat exports in the upcoming year.