The export of vegetables and other perishable items to Pakistan through the Attari-Wagah checkpost is facing an unexpected hurdle — quarantine. According to official estimates, as many as 200-250 trucks laden with vegetables and soyabean would take this land route daily. But for the past few months, officials and traders say, that number has come down to less than 100.
“All clearances and formalities are carried out at Attari on the Indian side according to procedure, but once the perishable goods cross over to Pakistan, they are being held up at the quarantine department and not allowed to go further into the market,” a senior Customs official posted at Attari told The Indian Express.
Officials at Attari say that for some months now, the export of tomatoes, poultry and vegetables has declined drastically, while cotton is let through.
Quarantine inspection is part of the standard operating procedure in the export of perishable goods, such as vegetables. Officials say this is to ensure that the goods are not carrying any infection that may harm the receiving country’s ecosystem.
Rajdeep Uppal, president, Confederation of International Chamber of Commerce, Amritsar, says, “We are following the same set of international rules and specifications since the last 15 years but our goods are being rejected. This has been happening for some months now, and is a huge setback to the entire trading community of the region. Initially, some trucks would fail to get clearance, but now, almost all goods are rejected.”
Uppal says there has been no official word from Pakistan’s Agriculture Ministry, under whose purview the quarantine inspection falls, on why the goods are stopped even though there is no official ban in place.
He says that September to February is usually the peak season for export of tomatoes and other vegetables to Pakistan, but this time, traders are wary lest they fail to get quarantine clearance.
When contacted, an official from the Ministry of Commerce said that the government is “aware of the situation and this has been going on for some months”.
Traders claim that this is “Pakistan’s way of unofficially banning” Indian produce to suit the interest of its own farmers, since it is tied by WTO norms and can’t do it officially.
“Tomorrow, if Pakistan faces a shortage of tomatoes in their domestic market, they will clear our consignments. But if they have a bumper crop, they will stop our consignment at quarantine,” claims an Amritsar-based tomato exporter.
Says a Customs official, “A few months ago, Pakistan destroyed several trucks of tomatoes after the consignment didn’t clear quarantine inspection. Now, we have told them to return the goods in case they get stuck with the quarantine department.”
India primarily exports tomatoes, onions, green chilly and garlic to Pakistan, besides poultry. In fact, Pakistan has traditionally been the biggest importer of Indian tomato, pegged roughly at over two lakh tonnes. Soyabean is the latest addition to the list of perishable items that Pakistan is importing via the Attari-Wagah checkpost.
Traders say they procure vegetables from across the country — onion from Nashik, potatoes from Punjab, UP and Gujarat, and soyabean from Indore. Goods exported from India are unloaded at Wagah on the other side of the zero line, where quarantine inspections are carried out.
Uppal says each truck of tomatoes, for instance, is roughly worth Rs 3-4 lakh. “Considering that we were sending no less than 100 trucks a day, it is breaking the backbone of traders in the region. A truck full of soyabean, on the other hand, is worth about Rs 5-6 crore. If such expensive goods are held up on the other side, they end up rotting. In a few cases, our consignments were destroyed by the other side,” he says.
“When we send the goods from here, we send along an OK certificate from the Indian plant quarantine department. Once the goods cross the border, the corresponding department in Pakistan conducts their own inspection. We have not been given any reason from the other side for this issue. Now, Pakistan’s Agriculture Ministry is not even issuing us import permits for further export of these goods. In such a situation, the traders are staring at major losses,” says Uppal.
“We formally apprised the Indian government of the situation several months ago, but there has been no breakthrough yet,” he says.