ISLAMABAD: With food inflation up to 42% in urban areas, a large number of consumers are opting for slightly cheaper but “higher quality” smuggled Iranian products, such as oil and cheese, readily available in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
Several shops in the twin cities have dedicated racks for Iranian goods, but the best place to bargain for these items, mainly packaged food, is the weekly bazaar at Peshawar Morr.
Naimat Khan, a stallholder at the weekly bazaar, used to sell dry fruits and spices, but now he has one section in his shop displaying Iranian goods. He said that the profit margins were better and there was no complaint about the Iranian goods, besides the fact that the shelf life was also longer.
Though there are a number of products available in the market, the most sought-after Iranian products are cooking oil and butter, which are hardly available for domestic consumers since commercial consumers get hold of them directly from wholesale dealers.
The arrival of Iranian goods has been received wholeheartedly by consumers, who express confidence in these food items.
“Smuggled” products are in high demand due to their fine packaging quality.
“Just look at this sealed bottle of 1.5 litre lassi. Not only is it very well packaged, but like every other product, the expiration date is clearly stamped,” said Asmat Zehra.
She also referred to tomato puree and red chilli paste. It was such a relief for households when the price of fresh tomatoes rose.
She claimed that the imported Iranian items have good packaging, and some of them were even up to 50% cheaper compared to Pakistani products. She added that every shopkeeper has different prices, so bargaining was mandatory.
However, Zehra missed the point that most of the Iranian goods were not imported but smuggled items brought to the country through a porous border between Iran and Balochistan as well as through Afghanistan.
Apart from Balochistan, Iranian goods were earlier available only in Lyari, but now the traders have expanded their outreach to almost all parts of the country, including Islamabad.
The wholesalers are mostly based in Bajaur Plaza, near Fawara Chowk in Rawalpindi, where a wide range of Iranian products are available.
The shopkeepers at Bajaur Plaza, however, become stiff-lipped when asked about the route of trade or anything other than the quality and prices of these products.
According to experts, border trade, especially at the Balochistan-Iran border, “is not categorised as smuggling” by either side.
“Balochistan is the most sparsely populated area of Pakistan, and it is not possible for our system to meet the needs of the people in remote parts of that province, even electricity to Gwadar and some other regions comes from Iran as it was too costly to extend the national grid there,” said Nasir Sherazi, the president of the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies.
He added that the Iranian government provided subsidised consumer items for their citizens in bordering areas, and in this case, the Baloch residents of Iran shared the benefit with their community members in Pakistan as well.
“The surplus quantity is sold in open markets, and now they have expanded the market up to cities in Punjab,” he said, adding that “these items are not totally duty-free, as some gratifications are given to relevant authorities as trucks travel from the border up to the cities”.
“Iran does not enjoy many free trade benefits due to American sanctions, therefore, we have to be highly competitive both in pricing and quality,” said Dr Mohammad Reza Rahimnejad, professor of sociology at a Tehran university, while commenting on the fine quality of Iranian products.
Talking to Dawn via phone, he said that Iranian food items were exported to many Gulf and European countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, and therefore the food industry had to follow European Union standards. — Dawn/ANN