New Delhi: Champagne and Scotch whisky have won their battles to attain geographical indication (GI) status. But India’s hope of laying exclusive claims to basmati rice has fallen prey to domestic clashes among rice exporters as well as patent rows between India and Pakistan.
GI status for basmati would mean that no other country would be able to lay claims, patent or sell rice under the name. However, Indian traders themselves don’t seem to agree on the characterization of basmati rice.
The latest flurry of activity on a joint application for geographical indication by Pakistan and India is unlikely to materialize, according to leading Indian exporters of traditional basmati rice.
“Nothing will come out of these so-called discussions on a joint GI application. We can never have one because India and Pakistan’s approach to basmati are absolutely different,” says an exporter who did not want to be named. He added that while Pakistan’s focus is on lower prices, India’s is on the exclusivity of basmati and for Pakistani basmati to be included in the GI application, the overall bar for basmati would have to be lowered.
Pakistan’s rice industry counterparts, too, have reasons to be unreceptive to the prospect of a joint GI. Last year, the ministry of commerce notified super basmati for export, a variety of basmati developed in Pakistan, which irked the Pakistani Basmati Growers’ Association enough to consider legal action against the notification.
According to export figures, while India’s exports to the European Union doubled from 2005-06 to 2006-07, Pakistan’s exports halved in the same period. But R.S. Seshadri, director, Tilda Riceland Pvt Ltd, which holds 40% share of India’s export to the EU, says India is not the only one to have done that. “On August 21, 2004, Pakistan legally took the right to export Pusa basmati to the EU, which is a variety developed in India,” he says.
Meanwhile, India’s domestic industry is equally divided on the GI issue. The tussle among Indian traders arises from a 2003 notification by the commerce ministry, which defined basmati rice for export purposes. The definition categorizes only seven traditional basmati varieties and six evolved varieties, which have at least one traditional parent variety as basmati, for export. The definition took six years to be finalized. It is this definition that is widening the rift among Indian traders.
The EU, which imports the largest chunk of basmati, allows duty derogation to only seven varieties of Indian basmati, all of which are included in the 2003 notification.
The trade agreement, therefore, leaves out a majority of Indian traders, who grow other varieties.
“The definition was constructed to stop Pakistan from getting duty abetment in the EU. But it does not make sense now that so many better varieties of basmati have been developed,” says Anil Mittal, chairman, KRBL Ltd, which mostly exports Pusa 1121 but which is not categorized as basmati for export purposes.
Both the trading lobbies, though, seem to use the GI issue to promote their own interests. While Mittal insists that it is in India’s exports interests to widen the definition for GI, Seshadri asserts that further dilution will rub out the premium image of basmati in the international market. Non-traditional growers, meanwhile, fear that export of non-basmati could be banned due to domestic inflation concerns, hence the rush to try and get more varieties notified as basmati.
The Union ministry of agriculture is supporting widening of the definition. Approached by the research and development community, the ministry sent a letter to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda) on 5 July, proposing an amendment to the definition of evolved varieties.
Apeda replied on 16 July reiterating that it took six years to reach the original definition and that it has far-reaching commercial, research and development as well as GI protection issues at stake.