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Onion exports: How Pakistan briefly won at India’s cost in unlikely matchup

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani onion farmers and exporters are celebrating a windfall due to an unprecedented surge in exports over the past few months, an unlikely win at the cost of their counterparts across the border in India.

The South Asian nations, bitter rivals in myriad arenas, are also major onion producers. But India is also the world’s second-largest onion exporter after China, and is a dominant force in the global market for the vegetable, its produce often crowding out onions from smaller nations.

So, in December, when India imposed an export ban due to a decline in local onion production, ahead of national elections, Pakistani farmers and exporters jumped at what they recognised was a rare opportunity. In 2023, India exported nearly 2.5 million tonnes of onions. Suddenly the world onion market had a gap — one that Pakistan partly filled.

Pakistan managed to export more than 220,000 tonnes of onions between December and March this year, which was a little more than its usual annual onion export volume.

Waheed Ahmed, patron-in-chief of the All Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters, Importers and Merchants Association (PFVA), attributed this success to quick thinking — and a government willingness, at least for a while, to allow exports without placing a ban similar to India’s.

“When India placed the ban, we urged the government to allow us to avail the opportunity, and by our timely action, we managed to earn more than $200m in revenue for the country,” Ahmed told Al Jazeera.

The Pakistani government did eventually impose restrictions on onion exports, as the outward flood of the produce meant soaring domestic prices. But exports already under way through deals approved before the restrictions are expected