An acute shortage of educational books is likely to happen this year if the price of locally manufactured paper is not fixed. The paper pricing issue has already led to unavailability of textbooks in the local market.
This was said on Tuesday during a joint press conference addressed by Publishers and Booksellers Association of Pakistan Chairman Aziz Khalid, who is also the chairman of the Pakistan Association of Printing & Graphic Arts Industry, and former All Pakistan Paper Merchants Association Chairman Muhammad Saleem Bikiya at the Karachi Press Club.
They said booksellers across the country would not be able to provide textbooks to millions of students this year if the price of paper was not stabilised. They lamented that the local paper manufactures had been continuously raising their prices. At present, the price of local paper had increased by over 200 per cent and its quality was also inferior to the foreign-manufacture paper, they said.
They said the pricing formula was yet to be decided between the government and private publishers and no steps had been taken to provide paper at a fixed price to the publishers. “Since January, an increase of Rs100 per one kilogramme of local paper has been observed,” Khalid said. He added that the current situation was pushing the printing and packaging industries towards collapse.
“Every week, a hike ranging from Rs5 to Rs8 in per kilogramme price of local paper is being observed. But no tangible steps have been taken by the government in this regard,” he maintained.
He said that every year, booksellers and publishers started bringing textbooks to the market on August 1, but this year, the printing and publishing process had been delayed because of unfixed prices of paper.
“The unavailability of textbooks means, there would be no education for the middle classes,” he said. He also warned that in this situation, parents could be exploited and compelled to pay hefty amounts to buy books.
He said the publishers were also facing shortage of imported paper because the government had imposed heavy taxes on that. According to Khalid, on the one hand, paper importers had been suffering due to heavy taxation and on the other hand, local paper mills could not produce enough paper to meet the demand.
He lamented that the paper crisis had resulted in a domino effect as around 18,000 businesses involved in printing and packaging and their supply chain had been suffering. “We have already approached the finance ministry, commerce division and Federal Board of Revenue, but we were not heard.”
They demanded that the government reduce taxes and duties on the import of paper in order to avert the impending textbook crisis. Bikiya said the PTI-led government had imposed multiple taxes on the import of educational paper. He said the last government aimed at support the local paper manufacturers but the paper produced in the country did not meet the standard.
He said that as the local paper producers had been raising their prices every week, the publishers and printers were not buying paper and this would eventually result in an acute shortage of textbooks.
He claimed that after the textile industry, printing and packaging was the second largest industry in terms of value-addition in Pakistan. However, high prices and low-quality paper restrained Pakistan from entering the export market worth billions of dollars.
He pointed out that the federal government had unjustly imposed a 10 per cent regulatory duty on uncoated woodfree paper during the 2021-22 budget in spite of the fact that 11 to 39 per cent anti-dumping duty already existed on the said item. Lawfully, regulator duty could not be enforced when anti-dumping duty already existed, he said.