ISLAMABAD: The government on Wednesday allowed import of tomatoes from Iran for a period of one month to arrest the skyrocketing prices of the vegetable in domestic market.
The decision was taken at a meeting of importers with top officials of the Ministry of National Food Security (MNFS), Ministry of Commerce and other stakeholders.
“Yes, we have decided to allow import of tomatoes from Iran,” MNFS Federal Secretary Muhammad Hashim Popalzai told Dawn after the meeting.
As per the decision, importers will be allowed to procure tomatoes from Iran for a period of three to four weeks for selling in the domestic market. Although, the government did not specify the exact quota for the procurement, it has set a deadline of Dec 13 for the imports.
The government believes that new crop of tomatoes and onion will reach the market in the next two to three weeks from Sindh. In the meanwhile, imports from Iran will help fill the gap to some extent.
The tomatoes are expected to reach Pakistan in the next four days.
To resolve the issue of quarantine requirement, Pakistan will accept the certificate of Iranian quarantine department for release of tomatoes at Taftan border. Moreover, it was also decided to make special arrangement for the presence of Pakistan’s quarantine department at Taftan border.
Currently, not a single non-objection certificate has been issued for import of tomatoes from Iran owing to absence of quarantine department at Taftan border.
On the other hand, the government has not waived off the 5.5 per cent withholding tax on import of tomatoes. The impact of this tax is estimated at approximately Rs2 per kg. However, tomato imports are not subject to customs or sales tax.
The tomato price shot up owing to a combination of ill-timed government policies and bad weather, which caused disruption in supply of tomatoes — a kitchen staple — across the country since October. Moreover, tomato prices across the region have shot up due to heavy rains last month.
As per the latest figures released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the average maximum national price of tomatoes was Rs180 per kg, though it is selling at as high as Rs300 per kg in several parts of the country.
The Ministry of Commerce has also introduced non-tariff measures related to quality standards on almost all vegetables as part of the measures to reduce import bill of the country.
However, the lack of quarantine department staff at the border with Iran and Afghanistan has hit import of tomatoes and onion.
The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industries President Daroo Khan Achakzai, while speaking to Dawn, welcomed the government’s decision to allow import of tomatoes from Iran. This, he said, will help curtail rising price of the pulp in the domestic market.
He also urged the government to accept Afghan quarantine certificate for clearance of vegetables from Afghanistan at Chaman and Torkham border stations.