Import of unhygienic agricultural items’ consignment barred

In an apparent bid to stop the unchecked import of vegetable and fruits from Dubai, Ministry of Food Security and Research (FS&R) has stopped hundreds of containers of mixed fruit and vegetable at Karachi port for not meeting quarantines requirements.

The imported perishable items from Dubai reportedly do not carry the phytosanitary certificates from originating countries, or the fitness/quality documents from Dubai’s government.

According to importers, out of 777 containers of imported mixed fruit/vegetable, over 200 containers were waiting for clearance from the Plant Protection Department of the ministry of FS&R, which may cause losses to the tune of millions of rupees to them.

On the other hand, Director General Plant Protection Department (PPD) Dr Waseem ul Hassan, while talking to Pakistan Today said that a large number of consignments was cleared after fumigation and initial tests, even compromising rules. However, less than a dozen containers of the imported items could not be allowed to enter Pakistani market due to poor quality, being unhygienic and not meeting the quarantine standards of the country.

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According to him, the imported items were basically from South Africa, New Zealand and others, since Dubai does not produce the same. The important consignments lack necessary documents and certificates from the originating countries for allowing them to be shipped to Pakistani ports. “As the country has already faced pests and other diseases due to unhygienic imports, the government will not allow such items into the country,” he said.

The importers were trying to the give impression that import of fruit and vegetable was halted after the restriction, but the ground reality is contrary to it. There is no ban on imports but the unhygienic and substandard items would not be allowed in Pakistan, the DG said. “The mixed fruits being imported from Dubai included mango, orange, apple etc. These items are being imported despite the fact that the country produces 2.3 million tonnes of Kinnow and 1.8 million tonnes of mangos per year,” he said.

He said 777 consignments of agriculture items were imported since February 1, 2017, out of which 204 consignments were imported without an import permit. At least 28 consignments were even imported without phytosanitary certificates.

In reply to a query, he said the importers used to pay Rs 10000 fine (penalty) for not completing documentation and other necessary process of quarantine and get consignments cleared from the port previously. “The day I took over the charge of DG PPD, I have stopped such practices as the unhygienic and lower quality fruit pose a serious threat to local produce,” he added. “We cannot compromise on billions of losses to the growers for a mere few million losses to the importers importing such fruits and agricultural items illegally,” the DG said, adding that 90 per cent pests in the country were due to unchecked imports.

In a letter sent by Pakistan Fruit and Vegetables Exporters, Importers and Merchant Association (PFVA), a copy of which is available with Pakistan Today, the PPD has requested to clear the imported consignments on a “One Time” basis, immediately without any further delay. The association also suggested PPD to destroy the items found as high quarantine risk.

According to PPD official, there was no need of the imported items like orange, banana and other fruit and vegetable, as locally grown produce were already available to meet the demand in the country. Besides the issue of availability of such goods in the country, the reason of stopping the consignment was the phytosanitary issue.

According to sources, a group of importers, who are also members of PFVA, were pressurising PPD for releasing the imported consignments. Though the PFVA always talks about the enhancement of exports in horticulture sector, the interests group was reportedly using a platform of the association to save their imports. The development at the port was reported at a time when import bill of the country is already skyrocketing against exports.

It may be mentioned here that for the import consignments, a release order is issued if the material is free of quarantine pests and or suitably treated. The import consignments which are refused an entry may be sent back or destroyed. However, some material may be released after segregation.

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Ghulam Abbas
The writer is a member of the staff at the Islamabad Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]
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