No let-up in food price hike despite massive imports

KARACHI: Higher imports of food items boosted the overall import bill by 52 per cent to $3.9 billion in the first half of the current fiscal year (1HFY21).

In FY21, import of wheat and sugar to control skyrocketing prices of the commodities have played a major role in fuelling the overall import bill. However, the increase in imports of wheat, sugar and palm oil failed to provide any price relief to the masses.

The overall food import bill shrank by 4.32pc to $5.423bn in FY20 under the government’s plan to curb imports. There were no wheat imports in FY20. Volume of sugar imports was negligible in the same period.

According to the figures of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the country imported 2.489 million tonnes of wheat at a cost of $661m. Average per tonne price of wheat stood at $265.

However, millers only gave one-time relief to consumers by slashing flour prices by Rs7 per kg in the third week of October. Prices of flour no.2.5 came down to Rs52 while fine and super fine flour were at Rs64. The millers again started to push up prices despite frequent wheat imports along with the arrival of new crop and regular supply from the provincial food departments. Five and 10 kg bags of branded flour mills now cost Rs360 and Rs700-720 as compared to Rs330 and Rs680, respectively.

The import of pulses rose by 13pc in quantity to 568,206 tonnes and 17pc in value to $287m. Average per tonne price of pulses rose to $506 from $487. Pulses rates rose by Rs20 per kg in the wholesale markets recently. Now the wholesale rates of gram pulse, moong, masoor and mash are pegged at Rs140, Rs240, Rs130 and Rs240 per kg, respectively.

The import bill of palm oil stood at $1.111bn in 1HFY21 — up by 32pc than IHFY20 — while volume of import surged by 7.49pc to 1.629m tonnes. The average per tonne price swelled to $682 from $555 resulting in a jump in ghee and cooking oil prices by Rs40-50 per litre/kg.

Import of soyabean oil also rose by 23pc in quantity to 72,756 tonnes and 18pc in value to $48m while the average per tonne price fell to $663 from $668.

General Secretary Karachi Retail Grocers Group (KRGG) Farid Qureishi said, “Ghee and cooking oil prices are on fire.” Giving an example, he said a five litre pack of branded cooking oil was priced at Rs1,480 on Jan 14 as compared to the new price of Rs1,625 from Monday.

The price of average quality oil is now pegged at Rs250 per litre as compared to Rs200 on Jan 14 while high quality oil price is now Rs300 as compared to Rs250.

Sugar price saw an increase to Rs90-95 per kg from Rs85 per kg in the last week of December, following continuous increase in wholesale prices.

Increase in high speed diesel prices by Rs2.95 per litre to Rs113.19 has further escalated the transportation cost. However, the cost of imported goods had definitely fallen keeping in view rising rupee value against the dollar in the last few months.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2021

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