Govt to import sugar, cotton from India, says Hammad Azhar

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ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Hammad Azhar on Wednesday announced the government of Pakistan had decided to import sugar and cotton from India.

He announced also the government’s move to decrease prices of petrol and diesel.

“This decision is not related to the ECC [meeting that took place] but the first decision we have taken, after consultations with the prime minister, we will reduce the prices of petrol and diesel,” said Hammad Azhar during a news conference.

“The price of petrol will be slashed by Rs1.5 per litre while the price of diesel will be slashed by Rs3 per litre. We took this decision because now, we have some room due to a change in prices at the international market,” he said.

The minister spoke about the high prices of sugar in Pakistan, saying the government had allowed sugar to be imported from other countries, however, the price of the commodity in other countries was also high.

“However, in our neighbouring country India, the price of sugar is quite cheap,” he said. “Hence, we have decided to resume sugar trade with India”.

He said the measure would help bring down sugar prices in Pakistan and will provide relief to the poor.

Azhar said the demand for cotton in Pakistan was also increasing with the passing time and the country needed the product in a large amount. He said Pakistan had not produced quality cotton last year hence it had given the green signal for the product to be imported from other countries around the globe.

“However, the import of cotton from India was banned and this had a direct effect on our SMEs,” he said. “However, at the recommendation of the Ministry of Commerce, we have also decided to resume the trade of cotton with India,” he said.

Azhar said the incumbent government had brought about a positive change when it comes to the country’s reserves in the State Bank of Pakistan.

“We made the State Bank of Pakistan autonomous,” he said. “Our currency today is standing on its own feet, we are not adding dollars to it.”

He said the government had received the $500mn tranche from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) adding that the amount would be a “healthy addition” to the country’s reserves.

The finance minister said he had been elected by the masses and was answerable to them. He said the government’s policies will be on the basis of the welfare of the people.

“Often, the correct decisions are the correct ones,” he said.

In response to a question about the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Azhar said Pakistan was trying its best to comply with the anti-money laundering and terror financing watchdog’s requirements.

“We will move forward with the utmost hard work. I won’t like to comment further on this matter,” he said.

Answering a question about the State Bank bill, Azhar said the government will present it to the Parliament for debate and will ensure all stakeholders are heard on the matter.

“The Parliament is sovereign, no other institution in the country is sovereign,” he said, adding that if the government felt there is a need to revise the bill, it would “with an open mind and an open heart”.

‘We respect Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and his efforts’

Azhar said the government had a lot of respect for former finance minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, adding that the economy had been stabilised during his tenure.

“Our current account deficit turned to a surplus during his tenure and our foreign exchange reserves grew substantially as well,” he said. “All of these things are on record and no one can deny them.”

However, the minister said it was the prime minister’s prerogative to “select and change his team”.

“The prime minister changed me twice and handed me other portfolios before I assumed charge of this one,” he said. “I will seek his [Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh’s] guidance during my tenure as well.”

Azhar said the government will try to improve its performance and ensure it does not repeat mistakes of the past. “We will try to turn our weaknesses into our strengths but that does not mean we were making only mistakes in the past,” he said.

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