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FTO directs release of 9 stuck consignments of imported soybean seeds

By Munawar Hasan
December 10, 2022

LAHORE: Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) on Friday ordered to release nine stuck up consignments of imported soyabean seeds from the port on one-time basis besides instructing to process pending applications of the GMO soyabean importers for grant of license and report compliance within seven days.

In his order, FTO Asif Mahmood Jah directed Secretary Revenue Division/Chairman FBR to communicate the recommendations to the government, secretaries, the ministry of Climate Change, and the ministry of National Food Security and Research for an immediate action in that regard.

As per the order, the federal government to give immediate written directions to the Climate Change secretary to issue approval of deliberate release on one time basis as a special case under the provisions of Rules 20(2) of ibid on provision of assurance and undertakings from the importers/complainant and relevant stakeholders.

On issuance of one-time deliberate release order, the DG of Department of Plant Protection (DPP) of Karachi to issue release orders of the 09 stuck up consignments of soyabean seeds at Port M. Qasim, Karachi.

Moreover, Collector, Collectorate of Customs, Port M Bin Qasim, Karachi, on receipt of release order from the DPP, Karachi, immediately process the goods declarations (GDs) of the stuck-up consignments of soyabean and issue out of charge orders on one time basis, securing the stuck up revenue, as per law.

On the other hand, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Biosafety Committee to process the pending applications of the genetically modified (GMO) soyabean importers for grant of license within 07 days.

It may be noted that reportedly importers of GMO soybean earlier refused to accept a DPP’s demand for testing consignments. A senior official of the ministry of National Food Security and Research confirmed that following a suspicion officially expressed by the Customs authorities about import of GM soybean, the DPP asked the importers to get the consignment tested for ascertaining seed type etc.

However, he said that a deadlock was created due to the refusal of the importers to get their consignments tested.

“We cannot allow to release consignment of soybean without following regulation mechanism,” he stressed. “Without any risk assessment, how can we allow imported cargoes on the insistence of the import lobby,” he posed a question.

Non-GMO soybean was available globally though at a little extra cost.

“Why can the importers or processers not buy non-GMO soybean, which is allowed for consumption in the country? It is a clear stance of the ministry to not allow import of banned food in the country come what may,” he emphasised.

The real stakeholder in this connection has been the ministry of Climate Change. As per protocol followed by the relevant ministry, importers should certify that soybean was not GMO, and if otherwise, the whole cargo gets rejected.

The official cautioned that a lobby was also active to get GMO seeds introduced in the country. “Once import consignment containing GMO soybean was cleared,” he warned, it might open the floodgate of GMO produce, greatly harming non-GMO status of the country.

On the other hand, insiders claimed that the ministry of Commerce in fact wanted to slowdown imports in order to reduce the trade deficit, terming of the main reasons behind applying non-tariff barrier over import of soybean into the country.

Nonetheless, Tariq Bashir Cheema, Minister for National Food Security, adopted a decisive approach and rejected the importers’ demand to allow the release of imported soybean that has been stuck at the port for the last several weeks.

He said the import of genetically modified soybeans was not permitted, and only the import of non-GMO soybean was allowed into the country. It was learnt that the US ambassador also called on the federal minister for the clearance of soybean vessels, but without success.