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January 14, 2021

Choked ports are a drag on Pakistan’s exporters

Business

January 14, 2021

KARACHI: Pakistan’s rush to import items to tame Asia’s fastest inflation is clogging the nation’s busiest ports and is hiding something else in plain sight — exporters’ pain, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

Snaking traffic jams of trucks on the British-era Napier Mole road, which connects the commercial capital of Karachi to the nation’s biggest port, have come to define the struggle of traders in shipping non-food goods. The reason: Vessels bringing in food grains and sugar have left little room for any other carriers to berth.

An inability to load goods on to ships is part of the reason why Pakistan’s cement exports declined 18 percent to 633,431 tons last month, steeper than the 5 percent drop seen in November, according to an industry body.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is under immense political pressure to put a lid on inflation, which at 8 percent in December was the highest among Asian economies tracked by Bloomberg. His government is now aggressively importing essentials like wheat, sugar and canola to curb price gains, which the International Monetary Fund sees increasing further to 8.8 percent in the year ending June.

In the four months through December, a record 30 wheat vessels were handled at Karachi Port, Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Haider Zaidi said in a Twitter post December 27. An equal number of ships carrying more of the grain are scheduled to arrive at the nation’s biggest port by March to complete the planned 3.6 million tons of imports.

The influx is overwhelming the local infrastructure.

“We used to make at least four trips in a month before these wheat vessels started arriving,” said Bashir Ahmed, a 45-year-old truck driver who was stranded in a traffic jam in vicinity of the port at Keamari last week. “We are hardly able to make one trip now.”

The situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon, as the South Asian nation only last month gave its nod to import another 300,000 tons of wheat to build strategic reserves.

Customers are diverting their ships to other destinations in the region to load cement and clinker, according to a statement from the All Pakistan Cement Manufacturer Association.