Thursday, June 16, 2022
Web Desk

Debate on cutting down on chai heats up as Ahsan Iqbal doubles down on idea

Planning minister shares list of countries with highest tea import costs, with Pakistan at the top

Web Desk
Minister for Planning Ahsan Iqbal suggesting during a media briefing that fewer cups of tea be consumed by Pakistanis. — Screengrab courtesy Twitter/@Ali707khan
Minister for Planning Ahsan Iqbal suggesting during a media briefing that fewer cups of tea be consumed by Pakistanis. — Screengrab courtesy Twitter/@Ali707khan

The debate among Pakistanis on reducing chai consumption to bring down the import bill continued on Thursday with fresh arguments in favour of and against it.

Minister for Planning Ahsan Iqbal doubled down on his suggestion to cut down consumption, made two days prior, sharing what he described as "the 15 countries that imported the highest dollar value worth of tea during 2020".

The list put Pakistan at the top, with an import bill of $589.8 million, which is reportedly 8.9% of the world's total imported tea.

The US and Russia featured on number 2 and 3, respectively. India, which shares a love for the beverage, and has the world's second largest population, was surprisingly not mentioned. Perhaps it is self-sufficient that way.

The minister's move to share the list, notably without any comment, added fuel to an already raging debate.

Most Pakistanis are already strongly objecting to the idea of reducing the number of cups of tea they have.

See: Pakistanis are seething over Ahsan Iqbal's suggestion to have fewer cups of tea

Journalist Anas Mallick, although not taking any sides, pointed out that the import figures shared belong to the previous fiscal year and that according to the latest numbers revealed in the budget document, Pakistan consumed tea worth Rs83.88bn, which is much higher. This likely means import costs rose as well in the current fiscal year.

Director of the Pakistan Initiative for the South Asia Center, Uzair Younus, thought Iqbal's argument was "ridiculous", saying that many countries are coffee drinking nations.

"Focus on real economic reforms, not gimmicks like tea and cheese!" he wrote.

This user seconded the view that the comparison was flawed since coffee is the hot beverage of choice in several countries.

She added that Iqbal, as a policymaker "should propose/promote polices to enhance tea cultivation and agriculture research" rather than advocate reduction in tea consumption.

This man, amused at the argument, reasoned that the stats just show which country is spending the most on importing tea, regardless of their choice of beverage as nation.

"There’s no comparison with coffee or who drinks more coffee or tea. Britain is predominately a tea drinking country," he said.

"Your argument is not valid as most of countries in the list consume hard liquor too," he added.

Seemingly in favour of Iqbal's idea, he further said: "Besides, I think the point made was to cut on country’s dollar spending as every bit helps. Aren’t we paying for this imported tea from our dollar loans?"

Another user was of the view that a better suggestion would have been to restrict travel to only necessary trips since fuel is prohibitively costly now.

Yet another sought an analysis of security costs in these countries "for protocol of ministers and elites like you".

"Can you also present analysis of allowances their ministers are getting? You people are living [a life of luxury] on people's hard earned money," he said.

This man argued why growing more tea is not under consideration, akin to the suggestion by former prime minister Imran Khan to have olive plantations.

He said the minister "should be preparing feasibility and working on searching appropriate land, weather and all required resources for it".

"But you felt [it is easier] saying 'reduce tea intake' instead of working on its solution," he said, disapprovingly.

For dramatic effect, this woman sought to give Iqbal a "gentle reminder" that in the grand scheme of things, such arguments and suggestions matter little.