Feb 14 - 20, 20

Despite the worst-ever July-September floods that played havoc in the country, exports of major food items continue to rise maintaining the growth momentum that set in since the start of current fiscal year.

Food exports increased seven per cent to $1.19 billion in five months of current fiscal to November 2010. And, chances are that the year earnings would reach $4 billion, accounting for one-fifth of total exports target, experts said.

According to an official of Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), exports of rice, meat and seafood continue to grow not only in terms of value but also in terms of volume.

He said: "This trend looks set to continue. We anticipate that food exports earnings would rise to $4 billion during this fiscal year against $3.27 billion last year." Justifying his optimism, he said that recently initiated export of wheat and expected improvement in fruit and vegetable exports in coming months would lead to a substantial increase in overall food exports earnings.

Pakistan restarted wheat exports in December 2010 after a gap of three years. And, exporters say import inquiries are pouring in from countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and some Middle East and Far East countries.

The government of Punjab has already sold 400,000 tonnes out of its surplus wheat stocks to exporters and plans to sell 200,000 tonnes more.

Exporters say they are focusing on exporting the commodity to Bangladesh.

"Exports to Bangladesh means lower freight costs compared to Far East countries and quality standards there are not that strict," spokesman Pakistan Flour Mills Association said.

The less-than-feared shortfall in paddy crop, better international prices, and consistent penetration into non-traditional markets continue to support rice exports. In July-November 2010, foreign exchange earnings through Basmati and non-Basmati rice shot up 12 per cent on annual basis to $779 million. Export volume also went up more than eight per cent to 1.364 million tonnes, sources said.

According to a rice exporter, the international demand for rice remained upbeat during July-November and it fell slightly only towards the end of December as grain markets in many parts of the world went on long holidays for Christmas and also because a record cold winter caused disruptions in trading activity.

With the start of the new year, demand for rice is rising. Demand is originating from South Korea, Japan, and Bangladesh amidst an Indian ban on exports of non-Basmati rice, they said.

Enrichment of aqua life after recession of flood-waters into the Arabian Sea, exporters' ability to retain newly-found export markets and pick-up in global demand have led to increase in exports of fish, shrimp, lobsters and other seafood. In five months to November 2010, seafood exports jumped up 34 per cent to $109 million. Volume of exports surged 36 per cent to cross 50,500 tonnes. The global demand for seafood increased in 2010 and is likely to remain higher in years to come mainly because of rapidly expanding middle class in China. With their newfound wealth, Chinese middle class people are now consuming so much of seafood that in 2011 China may shift from a net exporter of seafood to a net importer.

An exporter said: "Despite the EU ban exports of fish and fish preparations have been on the rise as we have found and sustained such new markets as Bangladesh, Brunei, China, Egypt, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand etc."

The global food export market is worth around $100 billion and Pakistan can easily capture at least 0.5 per cent of it and boost exports of fish and fish preparations to half a billion dollars, he said.

"We need further improvements in these areas. But we also need to focus more on packaging and marketing of fish and on developing seafood based industries like extraction of fish oil and manufacturing of export quality poultry feed," spokesman of Pakistan Fish Exporters Association said.

Further, export of 25 tonnes of meat to Malaysia for the first time late last year set the stage for further diversification of meat export. The Punjab government is planning to set up a state-of-the-art slaughterhouse in the province. It is also willing to provide incentives to the private sector for establishment of export-oriented cattle farms.

On the other hand, exports of vegetables and fruits fell 39 per cent and 14.5 per cent on annual basis to about 57,000 tonnes and 153,000 tonnes respectively during July-November. But, export earnings of vegetables remained almost unchanged at $22 million and those of fruits even went up 0.5 per cent to $75.3 million.

Sources say Russia has showed interest in importing 75,000 tonnes of potatoes and we have also restarted exporting onions after importing the commodity for some time from India. Pakistan has been exporting vegetables to such non-traditional markets as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan and with Russian market opening up for us, we can boost our vegetable exports to $100 million easily, they added.