If recent news articles regarding Pakistan's mango exports are anything to go by, it appears that the king of fruits is receiving a royal ovation, world over.
Unfortunately, however, the ground reality belies recent media reports that the country has shipped more than 150,000 tons of mangoes to destinations around the world. "Our total exports of mangoes this season did not exceed 130,000 tons," said former chairman Pakistan fruit exporters association (PFVA), Waheed Ahmed.
"We have suffered huge losses this season; shipping lines delayed shipments, clearance from local customs authorities was affected by the temporary closure of PaCCS and the rains in Punjab caused major damage to the fruit there", explained Ahmed.
Government officials have painted a rosy picture for fruit exporters, claiming that sales of mangoes to Japan and the United States will surge dramatically in the next season. But the bitter truth is that little headway has been made in negotiations with both these countries.
On July 30 the inaugural ceremony of Pakistani mangoes was held at Chicago's Palmer House hotel. The event was hosted by the country's ambassador to the United States, Hussain Haqqani, and many US dignitaries were in attendance.
"2800 kilograms of mangoes were shipped to the US for this ceremony costing exporters more than $50,000", revealed chairman PFEA Abdul Malik. But he added that exporters are considering this a sunk cost because so far the US government has shown no inclination to redress stringent quality requirements that limit the viability of exports to the world's largest importer of mangoes.
The United States has authorized a single facility in Sioux City, Iowa to irradiate mangoes imported from Pakistan. Exporters have clamoured for the approval of Pakistani plants, including an existing facility in Lahore; to perform the same process. But so far, their requests have fallen on deaf ears.
Officials from TDAP and the commerce ministry have also reportedly asserted that the country can initiate exports of this fruit to Japan from next year to the tune of 200-300 tons. But among the trade barriers is the requirement of vapour heat treatment (VHT) of all mangoes shipped to Japan.
Waheed Ahmed, who operates the country's sole VHT facility as a pilot project revealed that the total capacity of this installation is "about 180 kilograms of mangoes per day" adding that this facility is not sufficient to initiate commercial export of mangoes to Japan.
The Japanese government has keenly pursued local exporters to purchase a commercial-scale VHT plant, "but this installation will cost us about Rs350 million and even after that we would still be in a vulnerable position if a couple of years later, the Japanese government introduces new regulations regarding the export of mangoes to their country," warned Abdul Malik.
Instead of purchasing expensive infrastructure that is only relevant for exports to one country (Japan), Pakistan's government must work towards establishing indigenous process for quality control and getting them approved by the governments of major markets.
As an example, VHT plants are only built by Japanese companies and only their country requires processing of mangoes through these installations. On the contrary, hot water treatment plants can be purchased or developed locally at a fraction of the cost. China and Iran have already approved export of hot-water treated mangoes from Pakistan.
At the end of this month, the Philippines' government is organising the "13th National Mango Conference" with the theme, "Positioning the Philippines mango strongly in the world market". That country's government has also succeeded in enlisting the help of USAID in finding buyers for its mangoes, abroad.
The quality of Pakistan's mangoes is undeniably world class. Now growers and exporters need proactive measures from the government to secure favourable terms for export to the United States, Japan and other global destinations.