KARACHI: Pakistani traders this week urged the government to improve quarantine facilities and screening at borders with neighboring countries instead of closing frontiers completely.
Pakistan announced on Friday it was sealing its borders with neighboring Afghanistan and Iran for two weeks as the coronavirus crisis deepens in the region. Iran is battling one of the worst outbreaks outside China and reported 113 new deaths from the virus on Sunday, bringing its death toll to 724.
The Pakistani government has as yet not released figures for the economic impact of the border closure.
“The finance ministry is evaluating the input coming from different departments and sectors including tourism, airlines and hospitality sectors. Though complete picture has not yet emerged but the work is in progress with the help of health ministry and it will take quite some time,” the ministry’s spokesman, Omar Hamid Khan, told Arab news on Sunday.
According to Asian Development Bank estimates, the country’s losses will be between $16 million and $61 million.
“We have suggested that the government follow WHO (World Health Organization) recommendations for proper quarantine and fumigation of vehicles through deployment of professional teams at borders with Afghanistan and Iran. Separate space could be allocated for this process,” Badar Uddin Kakar, senior vice president of the Quetta Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News.
“We know it will not lead to 100 percept trade flow but it would not close down the window altogether.”
The move to seal the border with Afghanistan will potentially affect millions of people and trade supplies as landlocked Kabul heavily relies on Islamabad for its food requirements through Afghan transit trade and exports from Pakistan.
Pakistan-Afghanistan trade increased from $1 billion to $2.3 billion in FY2018-19, with cargo mainly transported through the Torkham and Chaman border crossings, according to Pakistan customs data.
“An average of around 245 containers cross the border with Afghanistan on a daily basis, carrying goods, including food stuff. The move will destabilize the trade flow,” Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News.
“Around 100 containers (under Afghan Transit Trade) are on the way to Afghanistan containing refrigerated food items. The container cost is estimated at $100 per day,” Motiwala said. “Who will sustain such losses?”
Exporters of fruit and vegetables also fear huge losses due to the border closure.
“We estimate that the our losses would be around $7-$10 million in the backdrop of border closure,” said Waheed Ahmed, patron-in-chief of the All Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters, Importers and Merchants Association (PFVA).
Pakistan shares more than 3300 kilometers of porous border land with Afghanistan and Iran, making it difficult to adequately monitor illegal movement of people and goods.
“Currently barter trade takes place between Pakistan and Iran as both countries mainly exchange essential commodities and in some cases raw material,” Kakar at the Quetta Chamber of Commerce said, adding that barter trade between Pakistan and Iran stood at around $1 billion.
Traders fear that the border closure will also hurt the country’s exports and local manufacturing and consumption capabilities.