As the country has become a net importer of cotton for the past three years due to lower domestic production, the government is set to allow cotton import from Afghanistan and Central Asian States via Torkham land route.

Pakistan’s cotton harvest has shrunk significantly as farmers are switching over to other lucrative crops. Different countries have given agriculture the status of industry but Pakistan’s agriculture sector is being neglected constantly because of increased focus on textile barons.

Owing to the low cotton production, the Ministry of Commerce is pressing the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) to permit imports from Afghanistan and Central Asian States.

However, the ministry has not recommended cotton import from India due to tense ties between the two neighbours for decades.

Pakistan’s textile sector consumes around 12 million bales (170,000 kg) of cotton per annum but production has fallen short of the requirement over the past one and a half decade.

For the current fiscal year, the cotton harvest target has been set at 10.89 million bales, but in meetings of the Cotton Crop Assessment Committee, the output has been estimated at only 7.7 million bales.

It is the lowest production level in decades. During 2013-18 tenure of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, the output had dropped to nine million bales.

With low production, the country needs to import cotton in an effort to bridge the demand-supply gap.

Furthermore, Pakistan produces short-to-medium staple cotton whereas long and extra-long staple cotton is imported for manufacturing finer yarn for its subsequent transformation into high value-added textile products.

Cotton is imported from various sources with the land route being the cheapest. It clearly indicates that Afghanistan and Central Asian countries are one of the top sources for supplies. As imports from India have been restricted, reliance has increased on Afghanistan and Central Asia for cotton import.

According to Rule 28 of the Plant Quarantine Act 1976, cotton import is made only through the sea route since quarantine facilities are only available in Karachi. In 2017-18, a special dispensation was given in a meeting between Pakistan’s commerce secretary and Afghanistan’s minister for industries and commerce.

Consequently in 2018-19 and 2019-20, the import of cotton from Afghanistan and Central Asia through the land route of Torkham was allowed after approval of the ECC, provided that all sanitary and phytosanitary standards were met.

Afghanistan and Central Asian States are economical sources for cotton import. Keeping this in view, the commerce ministry has proposed that imports from these countries may be allowed till June 30, 2022. It has sought ECC’s approval in this regard.

The Ministry of National Food Security and Research and the Commerce Division may engage importers for establishing facilities at Torkham for cotton import. Necessary arrangements may also be made to meet sanitary and phytosanitary requirements.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2021.

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