New TV sets, foreign booze unlikely during upcoming big sporting events—because there’s an import ban

Every time the football or cricket World Cup is coming up, sports-loving Nepalis have to buy a new television, especially large ones.

Cases of spirits fly off the shelves during major sporting, festival and election seasons while happily amazed shopkeepers work hard to ensure they never run out.

This year sees back-to-back World Cups, festival season and general and provincial elections, but those planning celebrations be forewarned that there may be no foreign alcohol or new television sets. There is an import ban in the country.

Since April, an embargo has been in place on 10 types of goods labeled luxury items, including TVs larger than 32 inches and foreign alcoholic beverages.

The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup is scheduled to start in Australia on October 16. Immediately afterwards, on November 20th, the soccer World Cup will start in Qatar. After the two sporting extravaganzas and festivals, the Nepalese go to the polls on November 20th.

TV retailers say sports fans have already started inquiring about the latest ultra-high definition sets. But there is no joy in the market due to a sluggish economy and a ban on importing electronic items.

The government imposed the import ban, which will remain in effect until August 30 or longer, to spare foreign exchange, which has been gradually depleted in recent months.

Hotels and restaurants have criticized government policies as not being tourism-friendly as the country seeks to increase arrivals in the wake of the Covid disaster.

“There is no doubt that the World Cup is the key event to boost TV sales worldwide. In Nepal, sales are doubling or trebling,” said Bishnu Gyawali, deputy general manager at CG Electronics. CG is the authorized distributor of LG, TCL, Sansui and CG TV brands in Nepal. “Demand is starting to increase. If the ban remains in place, a shortage of the latest TV sets is certain.”

Many retailers expected a sales boom to give them a boost as they grappled with rising costs.

Traders say such events are boosting market confidence as shoppers, who have skipped spending on essentials in part because of inflation, tend to open their wallets wide for special occasions.

“The ban applies until the end of August. We have limited time to order goods because we need to make advance reservations,” Gyawali told the Post.

Based on sales trends during the last World Cup, distributors say there are many people who want to watch the programs on a big screen TV.

In the run-up to the FIFA World Cup, many TV manufacturers have introduced innovative technologies into their latest range of TVs in order to benefit from higher sales opportunities.

Generally, retailers launch offers and programs during festival and World Cup seasons. Retailers say they have not announced sales of TVs and other electronic items this year because of the import ban.

According to them, they don’t know what to do this year in terms of promotion and sales plans.

“55-inch, 65-inch and 75-inch TVs are the big sellers during the World Cup,” said Amrit Ratna Kansakar, Senior Manager of Nepa Hima Trade Link, the authorized distributor of Sony TVs in Nepal. “We are not sure about government policy. Since it’s getting late, we’re not even sure if large-screen TVs will be available for pre-order. In fact, we didn’t start with any planning.”

According to Kansakar, the continuation of the ban means there will be no World Cup bids and plans.

According to the Ministry of Customs, TV imports increased by 29.85 percent in the last fiscal year that ended in mid-July compared to the previous fiscal year.

Nepal imported 165,471 televisions worth Rs 3.48 billion in the last financial year, up from 142,630 sets worth Rs 2.68 billion a year earlier.

Demand for imported spirits also increases during the World Cup as fans like to sit back and watch the show, drink in hand.

The 2022 World Cup is the first in the tournament’s 92-year history to be held in a Muslim country, and Qatar has also imposed alcohol restrictions.

FIFA and Qatar organizers are reportedly still working on plans to cater to all fans who wish to drink at the matches at the start of the tournament.

Gaurav Sharda, director of SPG Trading, a major importer of various brands of alcohol, said that sports lovers waiting for the World Cup matches may not be able to get their favorite brands this year.

“The ban could lead to a huge supply gap at such mega sporting events this year,” he said. The company imports popular brands such as Absolut, Ballantine’s, Beefeater, Chivas Regal, Jacob’s Creek, Jameson, Royal Salute and The Glenlivet.

The import ban on spirits has been in effect for four months.

“Even if the government lifts the ban by the end of August, it will take two months for the goods to arrive,” Sharda said. “If it takes longer, there will definitely be a shortage.”

Many traders fear the illicit trade will boom due to increased consumption during festivals followed by the World Cups and elections. That means no tax revenue for the state, they say.

“Not only will the illegal trade flourish, but the production of counterfeit products will also expand,” he said.

Trademark infringement cases have increased in Nepal in recent years. Look-alike products sell because consumers can’t tell if they’re buying the real thing or a fake because of similar logos and packaging.

There is an alcohol product on the market called Royal Tag, which customers can easily confuse with the established Royal Stag Whisky.

Sharda said sales of alcohol products during sporting events like the FIFA World Cup double due to high demand from hotels and restaurants too.

Hotels that have been hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic are very concerned about the ban as it could keep guests away.

Tourism is one of the country’s top foreign exchange earners, and hoteliers say that without imported beverages, the MICE segment, which stands for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, will be flat.

According to hoteliers, alcohol sales in upscale hotels account for 15 percent of sales. Demand surges during weddings and major events, which have become lifesavers for many hotels, as tourist arrivals are still stagnant.

According to the government, the import stop is intended to stop further depletion of the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

Gross foreign exchange reserves fell 18.9 percent to US$9.54 billion in mid-July 2022 from US$11.75 billion in mid-July 2021, according to Nepal Rastra Bank.

The banking sector’s foreign exchange reserves are sufficient to cover projected imports of goods for 7.8 months and imports of goods and services for 6.9 months.

Gunakar Bhatta, spokesman for Nepal Rastra Bank, said the government is making the decision on whether or not to lift the import ban.

“We have no comment on the matter at this time,” Bhatta told the Post.

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