Merchants demand withdrawal of powers delegated to Plant Protection Department

KARACHI: Merchants demanded that the unfettering powers delegated to the Plant Protection Department under the SRO 1067 should be immediately withdrawn because importers have already stopped placing further import order of betel nuts and this would further encourage smuggling of the produce.

Around 200 containers (40 feet) loaded with betel nut valuing about Rs691 million are stranded at the two terminals of Karachi Port since last November due to a flaw in the law created by newly issued Statuary Release Order (SRO) 1067, importers said.

The government through SRO No.1067(I)12017 dated November 20, 2017 laid down additional conditions for clearance of the consignments of edible products, in addition to the conditions embodies in the Import Policy Order 2016, they added.

Importers argued that the insertion of Part III in the present of Part I of Appendix-B of the Import Policy Order 2016 is not warranted under the law as it tantamount to curbing imports through illegal means. The main objection raised by the importers is related to undue role given through the said SRO 1067 to Plant Protection Department whose primary responsibility is to save guard field crops from destructive diseases or pest that could come along with imported food grains.

However, the government through SRO-1067, besides, imposing Regulatory Duty (RD) on 730 items with the objective to reduce import bill also gave sweeping powers to Plant Protection Department which do not fall under its ambit or as defined by Pakistan Plant Quarantine Act, 1976.

Pakistan Kiryana Merchants Association (PKMA) also approached the Ministry of Commerce and Advisor to Prime Minister on Finance, Revenue and Economic Affairs and drew their attention towards flaws in the SRO 1067 dated November 20, 2017.

The Kiryana merchants body pointed out that inclusion of betel nuts in Part-III of Appendix-B to the Import Policy Order 2016, seems to be based on sheer mala-fide as it was not warranted in the presence of Serial No 6.of Part-1 of Appendix-B of the Import Policy Order 2016.

It has been pointed out that under Part-Ill titled “Safety Health and Procedural Requirements” with serial No.221 and PCT Code 0802.800 of the SRO 1067, the Plant Protection Department will only allow clearance of betel nuts subject to production of aflatoxin report to the effect that the consignment is free from any pests/diseases.

The PKMA argued that how it could be possible to give such certificate or report stating that betel nuts are free from aflatoxin which is part and parcel of the produce as is the case with cigarettes (tobacco) which contains nicotine and could not be removed despite the fact it is also harmful for the health.

The PKMA in a letter drew the attention of the policy makers that standard 200 containers (26 tonne each) due to a flaw in the law having market value of around Rs691 million was not only encouraging smuggling of the produce through illegal channels but was also causing huge revenue loss to the tune of Rs873 million. Every month around 350 containers of betel nuts are imported and national exchequer collects around Rs1.575 billion per month and Rs18.9 billion per annum in revenue.

The hurdles in the way of legal imports of betel nuts through proper channels has opened flood gates for illegal imports through transit trade, smuggling and mis-declaration resulting in huge revenue loss to the government and higher cost of the produce to end consumer.

PKMA demanded that the unfettering powers delegated to the Plant Protection Department under the SRO 1067 should be immediately withdrawn because importers have already stopped placing further import order of betel nuts and this would further encourage smuggling of the produce.

Under SRO 1067, the regulatory duty on import of betel nut increased to 55 per cent with Customs duty at 20 per cent, sales tax at 20 per cent and 6 per cent income tax. Prior to this here was no R/D on import of betel nut.

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