The United States, which has always claimed that India’s wheat import norms are too stringent, has once again made a representation to the country to relax these norms, which would enable American companies, currently unable to export wheat to India, to do so.
India could import up to three million tonnes (mt) of wheat this year.
The US, one of the world’s largest wheat exporters, has been lobbying for a change in the norms since 2006. One of the requirements for wheat to be imported into India is fumigation with methyl bromide, a chemical that isn’t used in most developed countries.
The Indian government believes this chemical is required to kill certain pests found in the US that thrive in the tropical climate of the subcontinent. When contacted, a US embassy spokesperson declined to comment on the issue saying it was a communication between the US and Indian governments.
“Our present norms stipulate that foreign matter as a percentage of the weight cannot be more than 0.5%. The US has asked us to allow its wheat to have foreign matter percentage between 3.5% and 7%,” said an Indian government official, who did not wish to be identified.
The official also added that the US has also been seeking a relaxation in norms applied internationally to ascertain pesticide content in wheat. “It has pointed out that the Codex norms, which are the internationally recognized norms should be relaxed for its imports as its internal standards are lower than these,” he said. The Codex standard is an international food standard accepted by 146 countries, but is not legally binding.
“The US’ contention is that India uses the PFA (Prevention of Food Adulteration Act) standard which is lower than the internal standard used by them. Hence, it says that the government should not apply the Codex norms for wheat imports. Our stance is that every country is free to set any internal standards. However, for imports Codex norms would continue to apply,” the official added. These norms make it difficult for American companies to export wheat to India.
In 2006, the Indian government imported 5.5mt of wheat; private companies imported 8,00,000 tonnes. This was the country’s first import of the grain in six years. Most imports came from Australia.
This year (2007-08) private companies have started importing wheat from Pakistan.
In 2006, India produced 69.4mt of wheat; this year it expects to produce 72.5mt of the food grain.