Time to focus on ECO market for food exports

170px-Economic_Cooperation_Organization_logoPAKISTAN can boost its food exports to Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) countries as it now leads this 10-nation economic bloc for next five years and as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor opens up a lot of fresh opportunities.

Afghanistan is already one of the country’s biggest food exports market. Food exports to Iran are growing after lifting of US-led international sanctions on that nation. Chances for boosting food exports to Turkey have also brightened after the establishment of Halal certification authority in Pakistan. “And, food exports to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are expected to rise as they have start realising that trading with us is easier and strategically important in the CPEC era,” says a senior official of Trade Development Authority of Pakistan. “Already 80pc of our total exports to these countries fall in foods category and demand keeps growing.”

Officials of the ministry of commerce say our food exports to ECO nations that totalled $620m or so in FY16 can hit $1bn, if not this year, maybe next year. Their optimism is rooted in the enthusiasm shown by member countries of this regional bloc during the recently-concluded summit. “But a lot depends on our relationship with Afghanistan,” one senior official conceded in an obvious reference to current unease in Pak-Afghan political ties.

According to an old study conducted by the ECO secretariat, out of the 15 top items that Pakistan can export to ECO countries, five fall in food category. These are: rice, cereals cereal preparations, animal and vegetable fats, fruits and vegetables and live animals.

Currently hundreds of items including these five categories and even more, for example, seafood and meat and meat preparations are exported to the ECO nations.

Meat and meat preparations had long been on the list of export items to Afghanistan. But exports of seafood to Central Asian countries began when exports started diversifying export markets to reduce dependence on the Middle East, exporters say.

ECO Countries:

Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.