Sailing with PBIT towards industry status of packaging industry of Pakistan

By Fatima Ali Khan

Packaging of any product is a significant instrument to pre-visualise the story that can be fathomed and eventually perceived. The importance of this industry has increased considerably worldwide due to increased consumerism and newly defined goals of happiness and expression of emotions. As excessive consumerism has positively impacted economy of the world, the related industries have grown leaps and bounds. Packaging & printing industry plays a vibrant role as it is a catalyst in developing relationship between producers, suppliers and consumers.  By this time of the century, packaging industry is self-confident enough to endure vicissitudes and variations in response to modifications demanded by consumers or for meeting environmental mandates. Smart packaging demands, changing trends of e-commerce, sustainability and personalization will be vital trends which shall be driving factors for innovation in this industry.

Pakistan has a stable growing consumer market and following the trends of advancement and progression, the packaging industry has emerged as one of the most original sectors which is endeavouring to meet the demands of export oriented and domestic sectors. New technologies and trends are being followed for utilization of packaging as per demands and needs of products and consumers. Around the globe and thankfully in Pakistan as well, attention is being given towards environment-friendly packaging as a result of growing consumer consciousnessand realisation about harms & damages to the atmosphere.  One of the major reasons of escalation of this industry is the rapidly growing urban population, development, fast moving life style and a high growing trend of e-commerce. As a result of aforesaid factors, the packaging sector world over and in Pakistan is moving towards an innovative and state-of-the-art direction. Packaging industry of Pakistan is developing fast.  The growing demand in local and international market gives it colossal potential to develop and nurture further. It requires right direction and proper handholding by the government in order to compete with international standards and criteria.

Punjab Board of Investment & Trade, popularly known as PBIT is an investment promotion agency of the Government of Punjab working under the umbrella of Industries, Commerce Investment &Skills Development Department andserving as a platform for connecting public and private sectors. The organization is secretariat of the Special Economic Zone Authority (SEZA) Punjab as well. It plays an untiring role in; policy advocacy, uplifting of sectors for grant of industry status and case to case facilitation on one-on-one basis. On realizing the importance of this sector and prioritizing to uplift the economy, PBIT has decided to struggle for attainment of industry status of this sector due to its utmost importance and necessity in each sphere of industry. The first step taken for this execution is constitution of a joint working group whose convener is the CEO of PBIT with stakeholders from the sector, TEVTA and organizations like; All Pakistan Corrugated Cartons Manufacturers Association (APCCMA), PCSIR, Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI), Punjab Small Industries Corporation (PSIC), National Textile University Faisalabad (NTU), Flexible Packaging Association of Converters of Pakistan (FLEXPAC), Pakistan Association of Printing & Packaging Graphics Arts Industry (PAGAI)  and STEDEC.

On taking expert advice and opinion from the industry specialist, Mr.AijazZaki, Chairman of All Pakistan Corrugated Cartons Manufacturers Association (APCCMA), he was of the view; that packaging is a sector which must be given industry status immediately as it is one of the fastest growing sectors around the world. It is 3rdlargest sector in Asia and 5th largest sector in Pakistan. Zaki terms it as “mother of all sectors” due to its inevitability since every product that is produced has to be packed. The packaging cost amounts to 10%. In developed countries the packaging cost is 25 kg per capita but in Pakistan the per capita consumption is very less. The paper packaging cost is merely 5 kg and plastic packaging cost is just 2-3 kg. World over and in Pakistan, paper is the main packing material as its consumption is 40%-50%, plastic packaging constitutes 30% and tin & glass packaging makes up 20% of packaging.

As mentioned earlier that this is the “mother of all sectors”, hence it invokes no uncertainty to state that ithas immense potential, it is providing employment to  around 15 million people in the country directly or indirectly. Punjab being the most sound, urbanised and populous province of the country houses the largest packaging units. There are various types of materials: corrugated, cardboard, plastic, metal / tinplate, glass packaging and jute packaging materials.  Recently with the effort of Punjab Board of Investment & Trade a joint working group (JWG) has been formed after the meeting of Minister Industries with Pakistan Printing &Packaging Business Forum (PPPBF) earlier this year. Chief Executive Officer Punjab Board of Investment, Jalal Hassan encouraged the formation of this joint working group by apprising the stakeholders of similar efforts conducted in the past by PBIT for attaining industrial status for various sectors such as rice and warehousing & logistics. The CEO encouraged members of PPPBF to stay persistent and develop a comprehensive proposal.

Being an employee of the Investment and Trade Promotion entity of Government of Punjab and observing closely the scenario where there are angry grey clouds on the economy of the country, the urgency is to increase exports. Packaging is a sector which has massivescope because it is clubbed with every export since all exports need some kind of packaging. For example, rice, textiles, meat, vegetables, chemicals or any sector whose exports are being carried out are dependent on this industry. At the moment, an approximate figure of 3 billion USD export is taking place from Pakistan in the form of paper, plastic, corrugated boxes, flexible packaging, hard board, tin and to some extend in glass packaging form. PBIT has taken an excellent initiative of forming a joint working group (JWG) to steer in a focused direction by taking major patrons on board. As proposed by CEO PBIT and also the convener of this JWG, he asked the members to propose time-bound and achievable milestones.  As a result of this effort by the Board of Investment Punjab, an MoU between Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA), Government of the Punjab and All Pakistan Corrugated & Carton Association (APCCMA), Flexible Packaging Association of Converters of Pakistan (FLEXPAC)  and Pakistan Association of Printing & Graphic Arts Industry (PAGAI) is being planned to be signed for curriculum designing, introduction of new courses and most importantly for training of skilled staff for the industry.

With the handholding of provincial government and the investment promotion agency of the Government of Punjab, Zaki believes a lot can be achieved. Pinning high hopes on Government of Punjab, he emphatically says that PBIT can play a vital role in this sphere as Punjab is the center of all economic activities with a large population of more than 120 million, station of majority of FMCGs, production units and facilities along with a large pool of skilled and unskilled labour. In fact, this province is home to 70% of the packaging industry of the country.  In order to enhance this sector and to sustain its existence, the government should reduce the sales tax for some time and reduce the mark up to single digit as well.  Currently the sales tax is 18% on input and output both which gives a major disadvantage to the documented businesses. The industry needs to be incentivized through establishment of export processing zones, import substitution and eventually export after value addition.

As per my limited research &reflection in various sectors in many a cases; development of one sector compliments the development of the other. For instance, the unpacked market of fruit & vegetables, milk, rice, meat, poultry and spices etc., can exceedingly benefit themselves and this sector by improving the shelf life of these perishable items for local and international markets. Raising awareness on packaging of these items predictablyaugments the packaging industryas well keeping in view the elements of sustainability, standardization procedures, usage of environmentally affablematerials and global warming.I emphatically believe that there should be a packaging institute in Punjab for this potentially colossal sector. The government, by taking private stakeholders on board should work towards import substitution in this industry.

The economic growth in a country is directly related to the approach of government and its interest towards it. I certainly believe that this promising sector should be given the status of industry and the undocumented players should be brought under the tax bracket so that serious investors: both local and international should feel encouraged to invest. Trade with neighbours is always the most beneficial. China is the biggest buyer of paper for packaging due to its exports world over. Other than China, Gulf Countries are also permanent buyers of packaging material especially paper from Pakistan. Not to forget that Africa is now the biggest emerging market with 1.4 billion consumers. A market with high prospects for Pakistani exporters. Persistence, perseverance and determination are the vitalities and vivacities who will play the role.


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