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Our trade hopes and food lessons from China

By Usman Umer | Gwadar Pro Jan 22, 2022

Editor's note: The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of Gwadar Pro.

Pakistan is self-sufficient in major staple food items including grains and dairy products. This self-sufficiency has given rise to hopes of exporting food products to other countries. The construction of CPEC trade route is expected to boost mutual trade between China and Pakistan. Pakistani producers and traders are taking for granted that exports to China will be an easy task and they will be able to sell their low-quality products to China reaping huge sums of dollars. However, our ground social realities indicate that we are nurturing great expectations while remaining unprepared to take necessary measures.

Pakistan’s mercantile and trade culture lags behind the international developments and standards. This culture dates back to the last three to four centuries of the sub-continent. Stagnation of trade and commerce was the key factor for our subjugation to the British Raj. Today similar carelessness is causing our subjugation to Euromerican hegemonic powers. Our economy, industry, trade, and food products remained controlled by IMF, World Bank, and WTO plans. These organizations are epitomes of neoliberal capitalism and the handmaidens of America. We have not yet thought to be free of their reigns.

Fortunately, the world stage has introduced new players in the world system of governance. China is the most prominent among them. China is challenging the biased liberal policies of American and European powers. We are lucky that China has an iron friendship with Pakistan. We can become developed with the support and cooperation of China. But this requires that we qualify for this cooperation with China. Mere favors and sympathies will not work until we transform our cultural attitudes and trends.

Pakistan can export milk, meat, butter, spices, traditional sweets, and bakery items to China. There is a great scope of it. However, the mere presence of market and demand is not enough surety that Pakistan will export these items to the Chinese market. Only quality products meeting the standard parameters can be exported to the Chinese markets. There is no compromise in this regard. We should mind this as soon as possible.

One of the major hurdles in the way of our exports is the practice of adulteration, contamination, and unawareness. For instance, Pakistan produces enough good quality milk from livestock. Rural areas produce excessive amounts of milk that are transported to urban areas or sold to foreign multinational corporations. Milk from goat, sheep, camel, cow, and buffalo have distinct compositions and qualities. This milk can be collected by our local companies and exported to other countries including China. But the problem is that we are so lustful and greedy that we adulterate this pure quality product. Milk is commonly adulterated with water and other bio-contaminants. Farmers mix water in milk before selling it to milkmen. This is done to increase the quantity. Then the milkmen add their share of water into this already adulterated milk. Further, they add non-standard and unidentified additives in the milk such as urea and detergents. Water quality is very low in our rural areas and it is also contaminated in urban areas. When this saline and contaminated water is mixed into milk, the resulting product becomes a health hazard. Our farmers do not feed animals with quality fodder and food so the toxicities are included right from the first step of the food chain. There are other processing practices that further snatch the purity, quality and taste of the milk. Before selling, the cream is separated from the milk and unidentified chemicals are added to maintain the fat and viscosity of the milk. The packed milk is of the lowest standard. No health standards are maintained when packing the milk. An excessive amount of preservatives and additives makes milk a non-edible product in the standard sense.

Our food authorities are a recent phenomenon. These authorities are not strong enough to ensure food safety and keep a check on the malpractices. They lack testing technology, technical human resources, infrastructure and administrative capacities. Despite the efforts, their inspections and supervision remain limited to metropolitan areas. It means that they are administering the already adulterated products. The transportation of contaminated and adulterated milk remains unchecked. These are loopholes of policies and administration.

The real problem and challenge are that we should change our culture thoroughly. This is the point at which we can learn lessons from China. We should learn how China has achieved self-sufficiency in food with its capacity. China has standardized its food production and storage capacity. State Administration for Market Regulation, National Health and Family Planning Commission, and Food Safety Law are some of the institutional bodies working to maintain the quality of food items. China has controlled the malpractices of excessive additives, adulteration, and bio-toxins. China has helped countries along BRI with its technology transfers. It is our national need that we learn from China and tries to implement its tested policies and procedures. China has made food safety possible through social participation, social awareness, governance, regulation, and cultural transformation. This must be replicated here by our government.

Social and cultural transformation is mainly made possible with individual willingness. We should abandon negative practices now. Society should be made aware that economic prosperity and empowerment are not possible without positive changes in the culture. Our businessmen manufactures, producers, traders and exporters should make visits to China to know the Chinese culture and its values. They should know their ideals, principles and demands. They must be aware of their health and nutrition standards, food safety and regulation laws, consumption values and consumer sensitivities. Without these steps, Chinese markets will remain closed to us. It is also necessary on the part of China that the Chinese authorities should publicize their standards and cultural values in Pakistani local languages, at least in Urdu. Cross-cultural communication compels that both Pakistan and China should know each other and make them known to each other. China’s trade with Pakistan, especially exports to China, heavily depend on the cultural knowledge of Pakistan. Culture is the foundation of trade and commerce.

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