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India and Pakistan in basmati rice battle

File picture: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP

File picture: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP

Published Jun 26, 2021


In recent weeks a raging economic and political war has been heating up between India and Pakistan as India lodged an application to the European Union Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) commonly known as Geographical Indication (GI) for the exclusive claim of basmati as Indian grown rice which will, in turn, give India rights to export basmati rice to the EU.

Pakistani rice exporters will then be barred from accessing the lucrative EU market for their basmati rice exports if India is successful in registering the Basmati rice as their geographical product with the EU GIs commission for registration.

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The size of Indian rice exports is over 4.4 million tons with a value of $6.6 billion, which makes up 65 percent of global basmati rice exports compared to Pakistan's 300 000 tons with an estimated export value of $2.2 billion.

The basmati rice industry is one that Pakistan heavily contributes to and relies on. Pakistan contributes 35 percent of global basmati rice exports and its trade with the EU has grown from 120 000 tons in 2017 to 300 000 tons in 2019.

The problem arose in recent years when Indian basmati exports were declining due to the failure to comply with EU phytosanitary import regulations. The crop protection pesticide used by Indian farmers was also not accepted by EU food and drink importation rules.

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Pakistan, which is a much smaller producer of basmati rice compared to India, has tighter production and export regulations and is meeting EU standards for importation. Pakistan has increased her market share in the EU market.

Technically, Indian regulatory bodies should be looking into increasing hygiene standards and pesticide control in basmati rice production, but they rather chose to eliminate and marginalise Pakistan basmati rice exports to the EU.

India did this by lodging an application for basmati rice production exclusivity rights to the EU GI commission for registration.

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The EU GIs has given both countries a time frame to resolve this matter amicably by September this year.

This also raises serious concerns about why South Africa's custom and excise have not banned the Indian basmati rice into South Africa as the EU has done.

The EU-wide system for GIs was first introduced in 1992 and has been revised twice since then in 2006 and 2012. By 2009, GI systems were already used in 167 countries and regions.

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The EU system has two major types of GI. Protected Designations of Origin (PDOs) are very similar to the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system.The GI has three pillars to its system for approval - market size, price premium and rural development.

Analysing these GIs, parameter market size and price premium is quantitative analysis, but the impact of GI product endorsement on rural development is a qualitative analysis.

The GI registrar commission will consider the fact that India claims to be the sole cultivator of basmati rice to be baseless as it is a geo-sub-regional cultivation share between India, Pakistan, Nepal, Kashmir, Sri-lanka, and other variants of basmati do cultivate in Indonesia and Mozambique.

Basmati rice has a typical pandan-like (Pandanus amaryllifolius) flavour caused by the aroma compound 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline. Basmati grains contain about 0.09 ppm of this aromatic chemical compound naturally, a level that is about 12 times as much as non-basmati rice varieties, giving basmati its distinctive fragrance and flavour.

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, basmati, brown, wild, short and long grain rice has a "medium" glycemic index (between 56 and 69) as opposed to jasmine and "instant" white rice with a glycemic index of 89, thus making it more suitable for diabetics as compared to certain other grains and products made from white flour.

The rice war in India and Pakistan have multidimensional repercussions, political, economic, socio-economical, moral and ethical.

There had been diplomatic heated exchanges taking place between India and Pakistan’s trade and economic department.

If this Indian application does get a successful hearing at the EU GIs commission for registration, then the economic impact on Pakistani exports to the EU market will suffer a blow which will directly affect the socio-economic conditions of thousands of basmati rice farmers and their families who solely rely on the income as cooperative growers of basmati rice in Pakistan.

Economically it will affect Pakistan in foreign exchange earnings.

The Indian application for the basmati rice GI tag is misplaced, and India needs to understand, appreciate and accept that basmati rice was cultivated in the Indian-subcontinent for centuries, well before the region was divided into India and Pakistan.

Giving the ownership right of basmati rice to India is nothing short of lunacy and it is morally and ethically sub-standard trade practice.

It is a tradition of the Indian government to deal with bilateral issues with Pakistan in this manner since the partition and birth of two nations in 1947.

Let’s look at the issue of Kashmir when Indian forces illegally landed in Srinagar on October 27, 1947’ under a false pretext of Maharaja invitation and signing of the “Instrument of Accession” to India Union.

The original copy of such a document is still to be presented to the UN and ICC by India.

The matter of Kashmir could have been amicably resolved through dialogue between India and Pakistan, but unfortunately, India approached the UNSC to intervene, and today the matter is unresolved and it is the longest unresolved matter of territorial dispute between two countries on the UNSC agenda.

This is not the only issue, it was the same in Hyderabad, Junagadh, Manavadar, Sir Creek, Saichen Glacier with Pakistan, Kalapani and Susta territories with Nepal and Bhutan, and Tibet with China.

It is hoped that sanity will prevail and India will learn to live peacefully with her neighbours and adopt a policy of “Live and let Live.

Between 1839 and 1842, British forces fought a war in China that benefited drug smugglers. Their subsequent victory in the conflict opened up the lucrative Chinese trade to British merchants.

In this case, the final winner will be Pakistan as this saga will promote Pakistani’s basmati rice export to lucrative markets of Europe, Asia and the United States.

The battle between India and Pakistan is not all about biryani, but the key ingredient which is basmati rice.

* Salman Khan is a human rights activist and an independent political analyst of South East Asia.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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