Exports of horticulture products to Central Asian States via the silk route (Shahra-e-Resham) may reach $400 million annually following the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters, Importers and Merchants Association (PFVA) and International Association of Silk Route Trade (IASRT) of Kyrgyzstan to strengthen bilateral trade and explore new markets for horticulture sector in the region.
The MoC was signed after a three-day long international conference held recently in Islamabad which was attended by dignitaries, businessmen and exporters from seven countries of South and Central Asia. According to the terms of the MoC, the two associations would play their role for exploring trade opportunities in the region, especially for the horticultural products which would ultimately benefit millions of people from farms to factories in the region. Elaborating the importance of the agreement and trade with Central Asian States, Waheed Ahmed, Spokesman and former Chairman of PFVA said that Pakistan could make additional revenue of over $400 million through exporting fruits/vegetables and value-added pulp of mango and Kinnow juice.
The Central Asian States, he said are not only a lucrative market for, mango, Kinnow, potato, onion, value-added products of fruits, palm oil, meat, rice and all Halal products but the route to this region could also lead Pakistani products to Russia and European markets.
Pakistan has the advantage of land links with the strategically land locked countries of the region, he said adding that the visiting importers and traders from CAS countries have shown keen interest in Pakistan fruits, vegetables, technology and expertise in processing food. They were also interested in getting help from Pakistan in fruit processing and packaging sector.
Waheed suggested that joint efforts could also be made to market and promote products of the region in European and other western countries and in boosting economic ties with the developed world. With free movement of seasonal fruits/vegetables among Pakistan, Afghanistan and CAS countries, the dependence on India and other states during seasonal shortages of horticultural products could also be minimised, he said.
He said that it has been mutually agreed that the two associations would share information data of horticultural exports and also seek opportunities and environment of joint investment in the sector. The visit of delegations on both sides of borders would further strengthen trade ties. A delegation from Central Asian States would be invited to Pakistan soon, he said.
"As rules and conditions for Pakistani products in the big western markets are becoming strict creating stiff competition to the local products, the CAS market would be an alternate destination for our exports," Waheed said. According to him, the only major hurdle in improving trade relations with the Central Asian States is lack of required transportation facility, direct air link, and safe routes. All routes passed through Afghanistan. A viable, safe and direct route (already planned via Wakhan border) could be used to enhance regional trade.
Banking and Custom facilities for the said trade could also be established after land route become operative, he said. Meanwhile in order to deal with the new restrictions imposed by European Union on imports of fruits/vegetable, mainly from India, which it is feared may be applied on imports from Pakistan, exporters here have proposed measures to the government, exporting almost the same quality of fruits, mainly mango to EU which are needed as a safe way of export in the highly valued markets. PFVA, which is the only representative body of fruit/vegetable exporters, had tabled its suggestions and proposals to the Ministry of National Food Security and Research (NFS&R) in a recently held meeting in the ministry.
The proposals made to Federal Secretary NFS&R in the stakeholders meeting are aimed at improving quality and standard of fruits/vegetables in the country through Research and Development (R&D) while making short and long term policies for redressal of issues related to exports.
EU members states, had recently, decided to ban the import of five types of fruits and vegetables from India, after several batches were found to be contaminated by pests such as fruit flies. The members of PFVA led by its spokesman and former Chairman Waheed Ahmed, has informed the ministry that precautionary measures are needed to be taken to avoid possible restrictions on Pakistani mango export to EU after the EU's ban on imports from India.
The meeting decided that Hot Water Treatment (HWT) would be made compulsory for export of mango to EU this year to ensure the absence of fruit flies in the fruit consignments. To ensure its implementation, quarantine department will inspect the Hot Water Treatment facility in Punjab and there would be a complete ban on export of mango to EU without the said treatment.
Waheed Ahmed had informed the ministry that the treatment facility existed in Karachi should be used effectively besides at least 50 percent reduction in charges of the treatment through subsidy is also needed. Presently, there are three HWT facilities in Karachi including two private and one common facility. These plants are internationally approved meeting their quarantine standards. He said in order to improve the quality and standard, enhance production and streamline the supply chain system of fruits/vegetable exports, short and long term policies are need of the hour. He suggested the government to make it compulsory for the growers to hang fruit fly catchers in their farms to reduce the threat of fruit flies.
The use of spray and other biological methods to avoid the threads could also be useful steps to ensure better quality fruits. For this a common platform of all agricultural and research institutes in the country could be used to take help from new researches and information for improving quality of fruits besides removing hindrances in exports and marketing of perishable items.
Waheed suggested that qualified students/researchers/experts from agricultural universities should be recruited and their contribution be made compulsory in the process from farm to processing units and export companies. It would result in better and healthy production of fruits and export of the same, he said. Seminars, workshops and other moves to educate and inform farmers through media propagation about the best agricultural practices should also be made part of the national policy and required human resources and manpower should be ensured in the quarantine department of government.
He said that Pakistan exports at least 24,000 metric tones annually to EU. The share in EU market is negligible but the access to the lucrative market is also needed to enhance shares in others markets of the developed world. Improving things according to the requirements of EU market would also help Pakistan's horticulture industry and people/stakeholders associated with the industry. It would also pave way to improve food security environment at domestic level, he said.