Home / News / World /  US, Japan object to ban on onion exports

The US and Japan have objected to India’s frequent ban on onion exports at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), claiming that such prohibitions without prior notification put importing countries in great difficulty.

The countries have asked India to clarify its actions and give reasons why it has not opted for an export quota, which would allow a certain amount of exports.

At the WTO’s committee of agriculture meeting last month, both countries said India was requested to explain its onion exports prohibition. “However, India failed to provide any specific answer, only answering that it was temporarily in force," they said.

Both countries then went on to ask India to provide an explanation as to why the notification was not made before the measure was taken when prior notification is required per Article 12 of the Agreement on Agriculture. “Please explain how India has given due consideration to the effects of the measure on importing member’s food security. Please provide the reason why India resorted to the export prohibitions on the products rather than an export quota, which would allow a certain amount of exports," Japan and the US said jointly.

In September, the government banned exports of all varieties of onions, anticipating a shortfall as exports shot up 30% in the April-July period.

The sudden export ban drew protests from onion farmers as well as neighbouring countries, such as Bangladesh and Nepal, which depend heavily on Indian onions. In October, the commerce ministry partially eased the curbs, allowing exports of Bangalore rose onions and Krishnapuram onions up to 10,000 tonnes each with immediate effect. From 1 January, the government lifted all restrictions on onion exports, with its prices starting to ease in the domestic market after the arrival of the new crop.

Restrictions on onion exports have become an annual affair at the beginning of winter, with unseasonal rain sometimes destroying the onion crop leading to the sky-rocketing price of the politically sensitive staple food. In FY20, India even imported onions worth $80 million from Afghanistan, Turkey and Egypt to cool prices.

The ban on onion exports even become an irritant in the bilateral trade relationship with Bangladesh in 2019, with the country’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina raising the matter at a business forum meeting in Delhi.

“We are facing some problems because of the ban on onion exports from India. I don’t know why you banned the export. It would have been better if you had alerted us in advance. We could have sourced onions from other countries. You banned it suddenly, and it became a problem for us," she told an India-Bangladesh Business Forum, adding in jest that she had asked her cook not to use onions in the kitchen.

In FY21, India exported $378 million worth of onions, 15% higher than the previous year. The top exporting destinations were Bangladesh ($101 million), Malaysia ($62 million), the United Arab Emirates ($44 million) and Sri Lanka ($42 million).

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