(MENAFN - Arab News) A visiting delegation of Pakistani rice exporters hopes to recapture its share of the huge Saudi rice-import business after taking a huge hit during the last decade.
The 20-member delegation, headed by Malik Muhammad Jahangir and Abdul Rahim Janoo, met Asharqia Chamber President Abdulrahman Al-Rashed and Pakistani Ambassador Umar Khan Ali Sherzai to discuss promoting trade ties between the two Islamic nations.
A memorandum of understanding between the Asharqia Chamber and the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry was also signed in hopes of facilitating the visits of Pakistani and Saudi businessmen to their respective countries. The two countries have also promised to explore possibilities of various joint ventures.
"We have always been very close to Pakistan," said Al-Rashed. "We are natural allies. Our relationship with them on the political front has always been excellent. The memorandum that we signed today will cement this relationship in the economic sphere. We want to enhance our business ties with Pakistan."
Pakistan, he said, has vast agricultural land. "Recently our government has announced the Kingdom's quest to attain food security. What other country can play the best part in attaining this goal?" he asked. "Pakistan," he answered. Ambassador Ali Sherzai said the visit was highly significant "because this delegation consists of both rice-mill owners and rice growers. There is no involvement of middlemen here."
Without mentioning India, he criticized its businessmen for playing dirty business tricks. "They import top-quality rice from Pakistan and then brand it under their name and export it to Gulf countries. Sometimes they pick the worst quality rice and send it abroad after marking it as Pakistani rice. This delegation is here to clarify these things to our Saudi brothers."
Mohammed Al-Khalifa, general manager of the Dammam-based National Service Co. and an importer of Pakistani basmati rice, described Pakistani rice as the best in the world and recommended they should concentrate on advertising campaigns and attractive packaging.
Rahim Janoo, the deputy head of the delegation, said Pakistan's share of the Saudi rice import market fell down gradually from 2001. "Our share of Saudi rice imports before 2001 was nearly 54 percent. In 2008, this went down to a mere 7 percent. It has been picking up gradually since then, and today our market share stands at around 15-16 percent. It has almost doubled in one year. We are expecting to reach 20 percent by the end of 2010. Slowly and surely, we will recapture our share."
Janoo said the main factor for the loss of market share was a shift in Saudi consumer preference from white rice to parboiled rice. "Saudis took a liking to parboiled rice because it is easy to cook. India had an advantage with this particular type of rice. They had advanced plants to produce parboiled rice. So to stop the fall in our rice exports, I was sent to India in 2005 by then-Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. We bought 22 plants from India and installed them in Pakistan. We now have more than 200 plants with latest technology from Japan, Germany and South Korea."
According to statistics, from being the six largest exporter, Pakistan has now become the third largest exporter in the world. "We are a little behind Vietnam. We hope to overtake them soon to become the second largest exporter of rice in the world," said delegation head Malik Jahangir. "We overtook India and the US last year to become No. 3 from No. 5."
By Siraj Wahab