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March 26, 2019

Short-expiry: Importers of shady edibles should be made to eat crow

Business

March 26, 2019

LAHORE: It is taken for granted that any measure taken by the government to regulate trade have some hidden agenda behind them; though the order of business is mostly open like the recent regulation of imported Fast Moving Consumer Goods is in line with global norms.

The argument that less time was given to them to ensure compliance from foreign suppliers cannot be applied in this matter. For instance if they were importing edibles with an expiry date of three to four months against minimum six and charging full price then it is not justified. All consumable goods with short expiry dates are sold at half or even less price.

Anyone, who has travelled abroad or has even gone to Dubai, would vouch for the fact that items with short delivery dates are offered even at general stores at a very low price like buy one get one free or buy two and get three free.

It is unfortunate that most of the mega stores with numerous branch networks buy all their products themselves and not through a registered buyer.

Their containers when opened at customs contain various brands of chocolates, juices, jams, milk products, processed foods, pet foods, biscuits, toothpastes, cheese, and whatnot. Manufacturers of same type of items are not the same.

They bypass the sole suppliers of those items and shop around in the market to collect whichever is cheaper. This is just like selling substandard products at very high prices. So their protest on expiry date limitations fixed by the government is not valid.

Many of the imported items have to be stored at low temperatures but these FMCG products are not imported in refrigerated containers. Is it justified to fleece the innocent consumers through such deceit?

Another argument that they put forward is that the foreign suppliers would not print the ingredients and direction of use in Urdu because the orders are too small. One thing that must be noted is that they do not buy from registered suppliers and another point is that they should contact the actual manufacturers.

In fact, some smart businessmen might have contacted many manufacturers of FMCG for sole agency. Also all orders should go through the sole agent on the official export price of the manufacturer.

The sole agent would simply charge the manufacturer his/her commission; however, the agent would have to guarantee a minimum quantity (order) they would place with the manufacturer through the store chains. That minimum quantity would be attractive enough to lure the supplier to comply with Pakistan government’s regulation. And these manufacturers would not be doing Pakistanis any favour.

This practice is in vogue in all developed countries and many emerging countries. Many of these markets are much smaller than that of Pakistan. Have you ever seen a foreign product in Saudi Arabia which is without Arabic label besides English or German? When we export rice to so many countries the instructions on the packing are in seven to eight languages or to all destinations where their rice is exported.

Can we dream of exporting our edible to United States of America without English label? In fact, to export our products to those countries, we will first have to get approval of their Food and Health agency.

Our import laws are still not so stringent, but some FMCG importers are calling the new regulations as non-trade barriers. Safety of consumer is of utmost importance in every country irrespective of geography where they live. We are not applying specific measures in this regard.

It is tragic that every change that brings transparency is resisted by vested interests. The multinational pharmaceuticals operating in Pakistan protested the regulation to print the instructions, ingredients, and expiry dates of medicines in Urdu, but when the government remained unmoved they had to comply.

Some FMCG importers are saying these regulations are aimed at curbing imports. Well to curb imports government has already slapped regulatory duties on FMCG products.

The regulations are for the safety of the consumers and an attempt to regularise the FMCG trade that is currently controlled by the non-documented sector.

As far as Halal labeling from creditable agency is concerned one must be informed that in developed and many emerging economies animals are slaughtered through stunning.

For bigger animals like sheep goat and cow this works well because they tolerate the electric shock given to them for stunning.

But as far a chicken are concerned it has been found that 20-30 percent die because of shock and slaughtering of dead bird is not Halal.

So retailers, on the whole, should be fair, open, and clear when it comes to disclosing information and must comply with the regulations for the safety and loyalty of their consumers as keeping the buyers in dark and exposing them to health risks for easy money is no less than a crime against humanity.

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