Curb illegal import of lighters to save matchbox units: Stakeholders

When the manufactures had no alternative to solely rely on domestic trade, the prevalence of cigar lighters that were often smuggled from China into India through Myanmar caused yet another problem.
Curb illegal import of lighters to save matchbox units: Stakeholders
A matchbox making unit remains idle due to lack of orders at Kovilpatti in Thoothukudi

MADURAI: The safety match manufacturing industry, which’s predominantly located in Kovilpatti, Thoothukudi district and in some parts of Sattur and Sivakasi in the neighboring Virudhunagar district, is mired in its worst slump.

Owing to adverse factors, production has been affected almost by 60 per cent. Citing a host of factors that swelled the cost of doing business, M Paramasivam, president, National Small Match Manufacturers Association, Kovilpatti on Thursday said this traditional industry, which provides employment to the local workforce, is now fighting for its survival. In the aftermath of COVID, the industry is getting sick day by day. A year ago, this manufacturing industry, which largely relied on exports, suffered a blow with scarce availability of containers and skyrocketing container freight costs. Moreover, he said unlike India, countries, including Pakistan and Indonesia had higher rates of export drawback, giving the exporters a bit of fillip.

When the manufactures had no alternative to solely rely on domestic trade, the prevalence of cigar lighters that were often smuggled from China into India through Myanmar caused yet another problem. With a lighter priced at Rs 10, it could be used to light up for 600 times. Hence, one lighter could affect the sale of 20 matchstick boxes.

Though imports are considered legal, lighters were shipped from some overseas countries without claiming the commodity. Consignors of this import commodity declared it as an ‘empty box’, but lighters were concealed in it. Over the last one year, almost 700 containers of such empty boxes were imported through three Indian ports, he told DT Next on Sunday.

According to J Devadoss, secretary, South India Match Manufacturers Association, Kovilpatti, exports almost came to a nil over the last six months. There were delays in shipping this commodity to export destinations. Taking pride, he said matchbox making, is one of the few manufacturing industries, deserving credit for grasping the concept of ‘Make in India.’ Annually, this manufacturing product earns foreign exchange revenue of Rs 400 crore and GST of Rs 350 crore, but still the product is priced at Re 1. Taking into account the legitimate concerns of manufacturers, the Union government should take steps to ban import of lighter, which’s a silent killer, to protect the industry, he said.

R Gopalsamy, manufacturer cum exporter from Kovilpatti said the manifold increase in ocean freight rates and raw material cost has led to a drastic fall in exports. The logistic industry expects things to ease up by the middle of 2023. On the other hand, other Asian exporting countries, including Pakistan and Indonesia were doing a brisk business moving their goods by road and selling it in 13 countries, including Ukraine, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Iran.

During pre-COVID-19, an average of 15 to 20 container loads of matchboxes manufactured from Kovilpatti, Sattur and Sivakasi were shipped monthly to Bandar Abbas Port in Iran, but much of the market was captured by Pakistan now.

K Rajarajan, who’s engaged in export documentation in a manufacturing company in Sivakasi, said apart from the rising ocean freight, several exporters were experiencing bottlenecks that became tough to deal with when importing ‘Popular’ timber logs meant for making match sticks, from Belgium and Germany- where Methylbromide, which’s used as fumigant for quarantine purpose in some countries, was banned.

In these European countries. However, fumigation treatment is mandatory for all wooden products when transported internationally. Under such circumstances, stakeholders importing such timber logs to India are being forced to pay a hefty penalty by the plant quarantine authorities, he said.

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