The food ministry would issue permits within 24 hours to facilitate onion and tomato imports from Iran and Afghanistan, the government decided on Tuesday as it tries to stabilise food prices.

The food ministry has asked the Federal Board of Revenue to waive taxes and levies on onion and tomato imports for the next three months and expects that this will be made effective immediately.

The measures aimed to ensure the supply of essential commodities in the market and stabilise prices, the Ministry of National Food Security and Research said in a statement.

Unprecedented floods have sent food prices skyrocketing, putting many staples out of the reach of the poor. Onions and tomatoes have been affected the most.

Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said earlier this week the price of onions had shot up by more than five times, and that the government was trying to quickly implement policies to stabilise food prices — including importing from India.

The food ministry said it had taken all stakeholders on board to ensure a smooth supply of essential commodities and had directed the Department of Plant Protection to remove barriers for importers.

During the meeting, it was observed that imports from Iran and Afghanistan would have minimal impact on the foreign exchange reserves because of special trade arrangements with these countries.

The participants agreed that the country would face a shortage of tomatoes and onions over the next three months, as recent floods have badly damaged crops.

A contact group has also been created, where imp­orters will be able to share their problems. Bes­ides, a team of the food ministry will monitor the situation and take necessary action for redressal.

Pakistan’s embassies in Iran, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates and other countries have also been requested to assist imports.

Meanwhile, an assessment report of the ministry estimates that the onion crop in Sindh was partially damaged. Some 42,268 acres under onion cultivation were affected, leading to a financial loss of Rs10.14 billion and yield losses of 120 maunds (around 4,500kg) per acre on average.

Besides, the Sindh Agriculture Department estimates that 12,101 acres of tomato crop have been damaged due to heavy rains and the resultant floods. The damaged area is about 20pc of the total cultivation area, and the financial loss has been estimated at a little over Rs2.7bn.

Meanwhile, the agriculture department of Balochistan is seeking Rs30.9bn in compensation for the losses and damages and subsidising affected farmers in the coming sowing season.

It said Rs19.8bn was needed for compensation and Rs11.07bn for the subsidy on account of fertiliser sand Zaid, kharif and rabi seasonal crops like pulses, sorghum, wheat and oilseeds.

The commerce ministry is also in contact with foreign governments to make the arrangements as soon as possible through commercial counsellors and trade attaches.

PTI AGAINST TRADE WITH INDIA: Meanwhile, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lashed out at the government on Tuesday for allegedly trying to resume trade with India on the pretext of floods.

In a Twitter post, party leader Fawad Chaudhry wondered how the government could start trade with India ignoring the atrocities on the people of occupied Kashmir.

He said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s steps were not only against Muslims but also against humankind and trade could not be started unless such policies were reversed.

“We will oppose such decisions and never allow trade on the pretext of floods. The government should not betray the blood of the people of Kashmir,” he said.

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