KARACHI: Despite negative impact of COVID-19, rice exports maintained an upward momentum and rose by some 5 percent during the last fiscal year (FY20).

After the coronavirus pandemic, global economies including Pakistan facing lower growth and the country’s most exports registered a negative growth due to slow demand.

According to the Federal Bureau of Statistics, in terms of value, Pakistan earned all-time high foreign exchange amounting to $ 2.175 billion in FY20 compared to $ 2.069 billion, showing an increase of 5.12 percent or $106 million during last fiscal year.

In terms of quantity, during the period under review, rice exports moved up by 1.12 percent. Overall, Pakistan exported 4.166 million MTs of rice during July-June of FY20 against some 4.12 million MTs in the corresponding period of FY19.

During the last fiscal year, some 890,207 tons of basmati rice (including basmati steam, basmati brown, basmati parboiled) and some 3.276 million tons other varieties of rice (including 100 percent broken Irri-6, Irri-9) were exported.

Commenting on the rice exports, Convener Rice Export Committee of Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) and former chairman Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (Reap) said that despite COVID-19 and slow demand worldwide, Pakistan’s rice exports posted growth in a difficult time, when the country’s remaining major exports were moving down.

He said that during the initial months of the last fiscal year, rice exports were posting healthy growth; however, the last four months were difficult for the exporters due to COVID-19.

“It was a challenge for the exporters to maintain rice export growth after Coronavirus pandemic and Pakistan’s exporters with the support of ministry of commerce successfully achieved all time rice exports,” he added.

He informed that during the last year exporters could not travel abroad to explore new markets and focused the previous market. Exporters have planned some foreign tours during this fiscal year to find the new export markets and achieve another milestone in the rice exports.

Currently, African countries, China, and European Countries are leading buyers of Pakistani rice, which quality is much better compared to other competitors like India, he mentioned.

Suleman informed that Kenya is the one of the largest buyer of Pakistani non basmati rice and Pakistani have exported approximately 425,000 metric tons of rice during the last fiscal year. “Iran is also a potential buyer of Pakistani Basmati rice, but due to the non availability of banking channel, we are unable to export rice to Iran”, he mentioned.

Pakistan has limited access in the Chinese market due to quota system, but Pakistan can increase its share with some concrete efforts. Pakistan’s government should ask China for up to one million tons rice quota, he suggested.

In addition, Pakistan can enhance its rice export to Saudi Arabia, if they allow the duty free import of Pakistani rice, he added.

Convener FPCCI committee said that Pakistan can achieve $5 billion mark rice exports with improvement in rice crop and further focusing leading markets like Africa and Europe. There is also need to renegotiate the Free Trade Agreements with Indonesia and China to further enhance the rice exports.

Talking about the domestic issues, he said that Pakistan’s rice crop is facing multiple challenges including Seed development, storage and higher cost of production. The federal government should support the rice exports by enhancing cultivation area and providing quality seeds to farmers for an improved and higher crop yield, he demanded.

Suleman said that there is need to develop of new rice seed varieties to get a more production and earn more foreign exchange. “The Reap has already plan to increase the rice exports from $2 billion to $5 billion rice in next five years, but it need government’s attention and some serious efforts,” he added.

In addition, in order to ensure the quality of rice grain, some quality standards like other should be implemented in the domestic market, he suggested.

He also appreciated the rice exporters’ efforts for increases in rice exports and urged them for making more efforts to achieve another milestone in this fiscal year (FY21). Minister of Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood is also supporting exporters, he added.