‘We are sit­ting on a mar­ble gold­mine.’

Sanaullah Khan, Chair­man, Busi­ness­men Group, All Pak­istan Mar­ble Min­ing Pro­cess­ing In­dus­try and Ex­porters As­so­ci­a­tion (APMMPIEA), speaks to En­ter­prise.

Enterprise - - Interview -

Sanaullah Khan says that the mar­ble sec­tor has been in ex­is­tence in Pak­istan for more than 40 years. The first ma­jor project that uti­lized mar­ble in a big way was the Quaid-e-azam’s mau­soleum for which the stone was brought in from Na­mak Ali in Khy­ber Pakhtoonkhwa. The next ma­jor project was the Jin­nah Ter­mi­nal at Quaid-eAzam In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Karachi for which all the mar­ble was im­ported.

“I have urged the gov­ern­ment that all lo­ca­tions in­clud­ing airports and gov­ern­ment of­fices vis­ited by for­eign­ers should use lo­cal mar­ble. Un­for­tu­nately all the mar­ble used at our airports in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar is im­ported. The in­ter­est­ing fact is that good qual­ity mar­ble is avail­able in all the four prov­inces and in the 8 FATAS. It is a mis­con­cep­tion that mar­ble is only avail­able in Balochis­tan or KPK,” he says.

Sanaullah Khan says that start­ing from Dera Ismail Khan, all of Pun­jab, Sindh and Balochis­tan have beige colour mar­ble de­posits, the type that con­sists of nearly 60 per­cent of the global mar­ble trade while the other 40 per­cent con­sists of gran­ite and other colours of mar­ble stone.

“We do not have any dif­fi­culty in the mar­ket­ing of beige mar­ble,” he adds, “be­cause Europe has been mar­ket­ing it for more than three thou­sand years and the same fam­ily of mar­ble is avail­able in Pak­istan, while beige mar­ble is not avail­able in In­dia and China.’

He says that In­dia and China have suf­fi­cient gran­ite but not mar­ble which China is im­port­ing from Pak­istan on a large scale. Around 10 years back, Pak­istan’s mar­ble ex­ports stood at $4 to $5 mil­lion. This had in­creased to $60 mil­lion by 2008 but due to the un­cer­tain con­di­tions in the coun­try, in 2011 ex­ports dropped to about $45 mil­lion. This is not even one per­cent of global mar­ble trade and rep­re­sents Pak­istan’s ex­ports to just 12 coun­tries. Pak­istan’s ma­jor mar­ble ex­ports to Europe and USA were af­fected by 9/11 and the trade shifted to China and the Mid­dle East.

Ac­cord­ing to Sanaullah Khan, the ben­e­fit of mar­ble ex­ports to China is that there is no duty un­der the Free Trade Agree­ment be­tween Pak­istan and China. The prob­lem, he says, is that Pak­ista­nis have opened their com­pa­nies in China due to poor eco­nomic con­di­tions in the coun­try and are dump­ing mar­ble there and al­most 90 per­cent of the Chi­nese in­dus­try does not know that the mar­ble is com­ing from Pak­istan. He says it would be good for Chi­nese com­pa­nies to know this fact and en­ter joint ven­tures with Pak­istan or es­tab­lish their in­dus­tries in Pak­istan.

“Only in the Manghopir area in Karachi,” he says, “there are about 400 mar­ble fac­to­ries. This is not known to many peo­ple or even gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, but peo­ple in Euro­pean or US mar­ble trade know about this area. It is so un­for­tu­nate that we re­ceive vis­i­tors and buy­ers from across the world and they are so sur­prised to see the de­vel­op­ment of the mar­ble in­dus­try here. All this has been achieved on self-help ba­sis. Ear­lier these fac­to­ries were only meet­ing lo­cal con­sump­tion needs but now with in­creas­ing de­mand from the Mid­dle East, they are achiev­ing ex­port tar­gets of up to $60 mil­lion. In the cur­rent fi­nan­cial year, un­til April, we had achieved ex­ports of about $32 mil­lion. I ex­pect that in the re­main­ing 3 months we would be able to achieve a tar­get of $50 mil­lion which is worth ap­pre­ci­a­tion in the ex­ist­ing un­favourable con­di­tions when there is no electricity, fuel prices are shoot­ing up and se­cu­rity con­di­tions are so bad”.

Sanaullah Khan is of the view that the in­dus­try needs a proper area for mar­ble stor­age and pro­cess­ing. The source of about 90 per­cent of mar­ble is in Balochis­tan while the pro­cess­ing in­dus­try ex­ists in Karachi. The plan for es­tab­lish­ing a mar­ble city in Karachi has not ma­te­ri­al­ized yet and this is quite un­for­tu­nate for the in­dus­try. It is dif­fi­cult to store raw mar­ble in fac­to­ries and a huge quan­tity worth mil­lions of dol­lars is dumped out­side the fac­to­ries in Karachi.

Europe has had a mar­ble in­dus­try for the past four thou­sand years and is termed as the founder of mar­ble art and craft. Ar­chi­tects and crafts­men in In­dia are known to have been work­ing in mar­ble for the past 800 years. The his­tory of the Osmania era shows that Turkey has also had a tra­di­tion of work­ing in mar­ble for 6 to seven hun­dred years. To ex­pect Pak­istan to take a leap and ar­rive at the same level is rather un­jus­ti­fied. In com­par­a­tive terms, Pak­istan has pro­gressed faster in the past 30 to forty years with­out any sub­stan­tial sup­port. By work­ing in a rel­a­tively un­or­ga­nized man­ner, the coun­try has yielded prof­its of 50 to sixty mil­lion dol­lars, so if the mar­ble sec­tor were to be treated as a proper in­dus­try, it would of­fer huge eco­nomic gains.

In Sanaullah Khan’s view, Pak­istan has the level of po­ten­tial that, like China, can of­fer tonnes of mar­ble stock di­rectly sell­able from its ports.

He says: “I have been urg­ing since 2004 for con­duct­ing a satel­lite sur­vey of our de­posits. My ex­pe­ri­ence says that we have ex­ploited not even 0.5 per­cent of these de­posits so far. Right now there is a slump in the lo­cal mar­ket, oth­er­wise there would be about 400 trucks bring­ing nearly 500 to six hun­dred tonnes of mar­ble ev­ery day to the fac­to­ries here. On monthly ba­sis, we are pro­cess­ing about 3 to four lakh tonnes of mar­ble.

“We have also started ex­port­ing the best qual­ity of black gran­ite com­ing from Mansehra, as the min­ing pro­cesses have im­proved. We do not have any is­sue of sell­ing our mar­ble but pro­vid­ing the de­sired quan­tity is an is­sue. The cur­rent ma­jor con­sump­tion these days is in the Mid­dle East, par­tic­u­larly in Saudi Ara­bia, Qatar and Iraq. But more im­por­tantly, I would like to point out that our Min­istry and trade bod­ies should send well-in­formed and bet­ter aware rep­re­sen­ta­tives to our em­bassies and com­mer­cial con­sulates, as par­tic­u­larly our peo­ple posted in the Mid­dle East, do not have much knowl­edge about the qual­ity of mar­ble that Pak­istan of­fers. The gov­ern­ment should fo­cus on how more friendly re­la­tions can be cul­ti­vated with mar­ble trad­ing coun­tries, so that our ex­port fig­ures can go up, We are sit­ting on a mar­ble gold­mine,” says the APMMPIEA Chair­man.

He stresses the fact that mar­ble is a higher-earn­ing sec­tor as com­pared to the agri­cul­tural sec­tor. If sub­si­dies in mil­lions can be given to urea fer­til­izer, a 10 per­cent sub­sidy to the mar­ble sec­tor, would bring in much big­ger re­turns.

In terms of de­vel­op­ment po­ten­tial of the mar­ble sec­tor, Sanaullah quotes the ex­am­ple of Lui in Balochis­tan, where when min­ing started 15 to twenty years back, the peo­ple there had never seen coins or pa­per cur­rency. The pop­u­la­tion was scarce and there was no greenery. The lo­cal peo­ple used to ask the min­ers work­ing there for food. To­day, the con­di­tions are dif­fer­ent as there are about 500 tube wells in the area and about 15 to 20 thou­sand tonnes of onion is cul­ti­vated which is ex­ported and also sold in the lo­cal mar­ket at rel­a­tively higher rates. In fact, a num­ber of crops are be­ing cul­ti­vated in the area which is wit­ness­ing con­sid­er­able progress.

He says that while moun­tains have ex­isted in the re­gion since the cre­ation of the planet but un­less the wealth of these moun­tains is not ex­ploited prop­erly, peo­ple will never ben­e­fit and all this could be made pos­si­ble by the mar­ble sec­tor.

The mar­ble in­dus­try of­fers the pos­si­bil­ity of an eco­nomic rev­o­lu­tion in the coun­try. Like wood, ev­ery piece of mar­ble stone can be sold. Mar­ble ar­riv­ing from the mines in the form of blocks is con­verted to sheets and rods, while just the scrap pro­duced at the 400 fac­to­ries in Karachi’s Manghopir area amounts to 2,500 tonnes daily. This scrap can be uti­lized in pro­duc­ing world-class ce­ment, in build­ing dams, re­pair­ing roads and also in prod­ucts such as tal­cum pow­der and medicine cap­sules.

Sanaullah Khan says that at this stage, mod­ern tech­nol­ogy would not be very use­ful for the mar­ble in­dus­try in Pak­istan as it would sim­ply cut down the em­ployed labour by al­most fifty per­cent while in­creas­ing op­er­a­tional costs. The qual­ity of lo­cal ma­chin­ery be­ing pro­duced, even in small ar­eas of Pak­istan, is suf­fi­cient for lo­cal needs and can also be ex­ported as it com­pares well with the qual­ity pro­duced by in­ter­na­tional man­u­fac­tur­ers.

The in­volve­ment of fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions can re­duce the hur­dles of cash pay­ments that peo­ple in the in­dus­try face, par­tic­u­larly when many il­lit­er­ate peo­ple work­ing through­out the sec­tor choose to stay away from banks.

In Sanaullah Khan’s view, mar­ble is one sec­tor that is not de­pen­dent on na­ture the way agri­cul­ture is, as it needs water and is af­fected by cli­matic con­di­tions that are not in hu­man con­trol. Mar­ble is a run­ning sec­tor, ready to give em­ploy­ment to poor peo­ple who can be­come use­ful mem­bers of so­ci­ety.

He re­calls that in the 90s, when he set up a mar­ble fac­tory in Buner, KPK, it was the third mar­ble pro­cess­ing unit in the area. To­day, there are al­most 500 fac­to­ries there and they are all run­ning on self-help ba­sis. It is un­for­tu­nate that this is one sec­tor where nei­ther the fed­eral nor the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments have ex­tended any sup­port. The en­tire in­dus­try is so far largely geared to lo­cal con­sump­tion which is worth more than $1 bil­lion and the mar­ket need is mainly met through im­ports, mostly of gran­ite be­cause pro­cess­ing gran­ite lo­cally is more ex­pen­sive than mar­ble.

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