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The government finally moved to stop rice exports to the United States after it expressed concern about the appearance of dead insects in imported rice from Pakistan. The department of Plant Protection, Ministry of National Security of Food & Research, stopped at least 15 containers at ports recently which were scheduled to leave for US in order to avoid losses to the country. 

The fresh move, according to sources, was taken by the department on complaints received from Washington about presence of insects named 'Khapra Beetle' in rice imported from Pakistan, Business Recorder learnt on Saturday. The insects were noticed in a few consignments. 

Rice exports to the US would be subjected to more stringent conditions after Washington made propylene bags mandatory for rice imports from Pakistan. This new restriction comes as a result of a protocol signed between Pakistan's Plants Protection Department and its US counterpart. 

"Only jute bags are advisably disallowed for export of rice to the US while other bags, including those made up of fabric, leather, paper, have no issue in the foreign market," a rice exporter said on condition of anonymity. He added that propylene bags were not compulsory for packing exportable rice. 

According to him, Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan held a special meeting on Saturday to resolve the issue. After consultation with top officials in Islamabad, containers at ports were almost allowed to be shipped to the US. The plant protection department quickly moved to stop these containers without consulting exporters, who could incur huge losses if the consignments are delayed for a few more days. 

"We have also serious concerns over the protocol signed by the department. This was finalised without taking exporters into confidence," he said. The Association, he said, would also approach authorities concerned against the department. According to sources, the US had raised the issue of Khapra Beetle in rice consignments. The US was later assured that the Department of Plant Protection would certify that each rice consignment had been inspected according to US requirements by issuing a Phytosanitary certificate. 

If the incidence of the appearance of dead insects in consignments to the US increased, there is a likelihood that the US Phytosanitary agency APHIS might take strict measures against all rice export consignments. Pakistan's annual rice export to the US was around 20,000 tons. The country exported around 18,000 tons of rice worth $19 million to the US during the fiscal year 2011. 

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