Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal on Tuesday offered a surprising suggestion to reduce the country’s import bill—urging the public to drink less tea.
“The tea we import is imported by taking loans,” he told media, adding that citizens could reduce their tea consumption by “one or two cups” per day to reduce the country’s import bill and shore up the national economy. He also proposed businesses closing earlier during the summer months to save electricity and reduce the fuel bill.
According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2021-22, the country’s overall cost for importing tea in the outgoing fiscal was a provisional $487.1 million, 11.95 percent up from the previous year’s imports of $435.1 million. By some estimates, the country imports over 30 million tons of tea annually from 15 different tea-producing countries.
Despite it being often described as the “national drink,” Pakistan’s domestic tea production is significantly lacking. In 2021, the ousted Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government had announced plans to dedicate 25,000 acres of land in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa for tea cultivation to reduce this reliance on imports. The project is ongoing but is unlikely to yield any results in the near-future.
Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have dropped from around $16 billion in February to less than $10 billion in June—barely sufficient to cover two months of imports. This has been a key sticking point in the country’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to revive a suspended bailout program and the government has been working to reduce the import bill by banning the import of dozens of “non-essential, luxury” items.
Iqbal’s comments, predictably, drew widespread outrage and ridicule on social media, with citizens questioning how cutting tea would ease the country’s economic crises as the government announces salary increases for government employees and expands the defense budget while asking the citizenry to adopt austerity.