Food imports jump sharply as trade embargo eases

- SHANKAR ACHARYA, PARSA

Feb 5, 2016-

Food imports through Sirsiya Dry Port in Birgunj have jumped sharply in the last three months. The Sirsiya Customs Office said that shipments of mustard, lentils, maize, soybean oil and wheat had more than doubled after border restrictions were relaxed. Nepal imports most of its food requirements from India. 

The country’s food import bill has crossed Rs3 billion in the last three months. Customs officials said that importers had been importing larger amounts of food as prices had dropped sharply in the international market.

However, a number of government officials said that the rise in imports had been necessitated by a poor summer harvest. 

Maize topped the list of imports, according to the customs office. Nepal imported 35,600 tonnes of maize worth Rs1.12 billion from India through the dry port in the first six months of 2015-16, a huge jump from Rs180 million in the same period last year.  

Most of the imports were made in the last three months as border transit points were previously blocked due to the Tarai unrest and India’s trade embargo against Nepal. 

Mustard imports through the dry port amounted to 28,000 tonnes worth Rs770 million, against Rs365 million in the same period last year. Mustard is mainly imported from Ukraine.  

Similarly, Nepal imported 10,900 tonnes of lentils worth Rs975 million while shipments in the same period last year were valued at Rs106 million, according to the customs office. 

Wheat imports amounted to 8,313 tonnes worth Rs247 million. Soybean oil imports were recorded at Rs88.2 million against Rs3.3 million in the same period last year. 

Devi Prasad Bhandari, chief of the customs office, said that imports could have swelled as food commodities had become cheaper in the international market. He added that prices of food commodities had dropped sharply due to falling oil prices. 

The dry port has become a preferred transit point for many importers as there is less chance of goods being damaged during shipment from Kolkata by rail. 

Nepal imported agro products worth Rs137.12 billion in the last fiscal year 2014-15, setting off concern that the agrarian country’s dependence on imported farm products was ballooning out of control.

The jump in shipments has pushed agro commodities to the top of the list of imports, knocking petroleum products from the number one spot.

The growth is unlikely to stop due to a poor summer crop harvest and increased migration of farm labour to foreign job destinations as the farm sector has started losing its charm due to the low rate of return.

Published: 05-02-2016 09:14

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