FRIDAY, December 10, 2004
By Lola Nayar, Indo-Asian News Service

New Delhi, Dec 10 (IANS) Pakistan may import Indian wheat to make up for its shortfall as it is cheaper than what it has been buying from countries like the US, Australia and Russia.

"We are expecting a wheat crop of 20 million tonnes this year and are short of 1.5 million tonnes. At present we are buying stocks from the US, Australia, Canada and Russia. But our research people have advised us to look at India," said Tariq Sadiq, president of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Pakistan has already begun the tendering process and has so far received one shipment of 150,000 tonnes from Russia and is expecting another consignment from Australia, he disclosed.

In India at the invitation of the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI), which represents northern states, Sadiq told IANS: "We have been told that as against the price of Rs.12.5 per kg internationally, we could get good quality wheat from India at around Rs.9 per kg."

According to Sheikh Muhammad Shabbir, board member of the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and former president of the Islamabad Stock Exchange, Pakistan's domestic consumption of wheat is about 20.5 million tonnes.

"But last year, production was only 18.7 million tonnes, hence the shortfall in stocks. Two years back, we had exported around 1.5 million tonnes, but now the position is such that we have to import around 1.5 million tonnes to bridge the gap till next harvest," said Shabbir, CEO of Rawalpindi Flour and General Mills.

Shabbir said orders for around 600,000 tonnes of wheat had already been placed, of which 150,000 tonnes had arrived from Russia.

While being keen on Indian wheat, traders from Pakistan are apprehensive about the presence of Karnal Bunt, a fungal infection present in wheat grown in several parts of the globe. The restrictions placed on the movement of some goods across the land border through Punjab are also intimidating.

"We are here to study the possibilities of importing wheat. But that would only be possible if it is free of Karnal Bunt and is allowed to be taken by road across the land border," he added.

They are planning to meet grain exporters and commerce ministry officials to discuss the matter.

"Representatives of the Pakistan Flour Milling Association would also be meeting the grain exporters' body here. We need wheat stock urgently as the new crop would be available only towards the end of April, by which time we could face a crunch," said Sadiq.

Last year, Pakistan had rejected two shipments of Australian wheat when tests had indicated the presence of Karnal Bunt.

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