ISLAMABAD: Rice exporters on Tuesday urged the government to grant them industry status and help them find new markets, as they aim to increase their export potential from $2.5 billion to $4.5 billion.
REAP Chairman Chela Ram Kelwani said that the association has met the annual target of $2.5 billion in rice exports, despite the recent floods that affected the crop. "This was a remarkable success, considering that the export of rice was only $300 million 15 years ago," Kelwani said at a press conference in Islamabad.
He said that the government should grant the rice export sector the status of an industry, which would provide access to various incentives and facilities.
"The rice export is currently the third largest sector in the country's economy, and the status of an industry should be given to it. The government's support is necessary to increase the production of rice and to find new markets, which, if fully available, can make rice export the largest sector in Pakistan's economy," Kelwani said.
He said the sector also needs the government's help to overcome the hurdles such as high tariffs, port congestion, high bank interest rates, and high electricity costs that hamper its growth.
Kelwani said Pakistan's basmati rice is famous all over the world for its quality and aroma, and is consumed in the markets of Southeast Asia, Europe, and Central Asia.
He said that Punjab is the hub of basmati production, but the land is being taken over by housing societies.
He urged the government to protect the rice cultivation areas and encourage the farmers to increase their output.
"Punjab is the center of Basmati, and the area along the GT-road is known in the world for the cultivation of Basmati. But at present, housing societies are being formed in the areas of rice cultivation."
He also said that Pakistan has won the legal battle against India in the European market, where India can no longer sell Pakistani rice under its own branding.
"We have defeated India in the European market. Now they cannot sell our rice to the world under their own branding."
REAP leader Haseeb Ali Khan said that the rice export sector has the potential to become the largest sector of the country's economy, if the government fully supports it.
He said that REAP is using technology and modern methods to improve the quality and quantity of rice exports, and the trade body is also exploring new markets, such as Africa and Latin America, where there is a high demand for Basmati rice.