Thousands of containers carrying lentils and canola oil are gathering dust at the port as importers are concerned they will have to pay heavy duties as the finance ministry’s announcement of rate cuts hasn’t been implemented yet, said Anis Majeed, patron-in-chief of the Karachi Wholesale Grocers Association.
Majeed was referring to an announcement made last month abolishing the 2% tax on imports. He said that it hasn’t been enforced yet and buyers are waiting for its implementation. “If I buy today I have to pay import duty but what if it is abolished tomorrow?” they say.
A source in the Karachi Port Trust said that announcements are followed by official notifications and then after the board’s approval, they are enacted. Wholesalers warn that if the process is not expedited, there will likely be an imported pulses and cooking oil shortage and prices will soar.
Majeed said right now there is no discernable difference in the market prices and things are normal. Trucks loaded with essential items that had been awaiting approval from authorities to let them into the city have been released due to fears of a shortage.
Karachi Atta Chakki Association Chairman Anis Shahid said for now, flour rates have been brought down to Rs55 per kg from Rs60. But he too warned of an impending crisis as flour mills were running out of labourers and they couldn’t produce as much as the cities demand. “I had to pay Rs8,000 to privately bring just two labours from their villages so our mill could function.”
Shahid speaks for some 800 flour mills and he pleaded with the government to allow millers to run their mills for longer hours. “They can shut the retail counter but shutting production will cause great shortages.”
Vegetables and fruit
Karachi Sabzi Mandi Vice-Chairman Asif Ahmed said the rates of vegetables and fruit have not increased during the lockdown and that supply and demand are normal. “Wheel cart vendors have decreased by 50% because many markets where they sold their items have shut down,” he explained. But superstores have picked up the slack and are consuming the supply instead.
“If the superstores are hiking prices, it’s not our responsibility. We haven’t raised prices.”
An online vegetable vendor based in Karachi, Naveed Karim, said produce was being sold at the same price as last month, with a little fluctuation, which was normal. He shared his price list for March 2 and April 2 and the rates were almost identical.
Karachi Milk Wholesaler Associates focal person Haji Rafiq Paykar said that with the lockdown, the dairy market’s entire supply chain has been disrupted.
“Farmers are still supplying at the rate opened three months back which was Rs3,510 per 37.5 kg,” he said, adding that in some areas, wholesalers are selling milk for even less, such as for Rs75 or 80, but they did so because their earlier orders from dhabas, restaurants and sweet shops have now stopped. “Now they have supply but no demand.”
President of the Wholesale Chemists Council of Pakistan Atif Hanif Blue told SAMAA Digital that whatever increase observed in the retail price of medicine was because there has been little or no supply.
“We take our cut and supply to our retailer clients, but if there are no disinfectants and chloroquine available from the producers, how will we supply them?” asked Hanif. He said over the counter medicines will also see a hike because coronavirus symptoms include headaches, fevers and throat aches, among others.
Just like choloroquine — the medicine to treat malaria, which some claimed could treat the coronavirus– “you will see Panadol and Disprin vanishing from the market,” he warned.
The man in charge of the Karachi Commissioner’s price control unit, Naeem Baig, said that since officials were busy in other activities due to the coronavirus pandemic, they might not be to able keep a check on retailers. “Our rates are verified by the Bureau of Supply and Prices and their officials are in the markets to gauge first hand situation.”