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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  India to leverage South Africa's WTO case to push for relaxation of EU food safety standards
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India to leverage South Africa's WTO case to push for relaxation of EU food safety standards

The EU's stringent norms have dented Indian exports of chilies, tea, basmati rice, milk, poultry, bovine meat, fish and chemicals.

The development is also occurring against the backdrop of a dispute over the Geographical Indication (GI) registration of Basmati rice between Pakistan and India in the European Commission. Premium
The development is also occurring against the backdrop of a dispute over the Geographical Indication (GI) registration of Basmati rice between Pakistan and India in the European Commission.

New Delhi: India plans to leverage a new case filed by South Africa challenging the strict food safety regulations imposed by the European Union (EU) on citrus fruit to also call for relaxations in standards that currently hinder a whole range of Indian food exports, two people aware of the development said.

The EU's stringent safety norms have significantly limited India's exports of chilies, tea, basmati rice, milk, poultry, bovine meat, fish, and chemicals.

Championing cause

India plans to champion this cause along with South Africa, given Pretoria’s alignment with New Delhi on various food safety issues on global platforms.

"It's an important development, and India will definitely contest the stringent food safety norms imposed on Indian food items exported to European nations," the first person said.

Also read | WTO expects gradual recovery in global trade in 2024

Queries emailed to the commerce secretary and commerce ministry’s spokesperson remained unanswered at press time.

“India must support South Africa on this issue as India’s exports to the EU are far below potential. Supporting South Africa could pave the way for addressing broader concerns about the EU's trade barriers that affect multiple exporting countries," said Ajay Srivastava, founder of Global Trade Research Initiative (GTRI).

Unfair restriction?

“South Africa believes that the EU's phytosanitary regulations, specifically those concerning the False Codling Moth (an insect), unfairly restrict imports of South African citrus fruits. South Africa argues that the EU's requirements are stricter than necessary and violate the international trade rules set by the World Trade Organization (WTO)," he said.

“South Africa is challenging the EU regulations as the citrus industry is important for South Africa's economy, and these restrictions could limit their export potential. Also, South Africa likely believes the EU's measures are more stringent than what's scientifically necessary to control the moth," Srivastava noted.

Also read |  India and South Africa object to WTO investment agreement in Abu Dhabi meet

The development is also occurring against the backdrop of an India-Pakistan dispute over the Geographical Indication (GI) registration of Basmati rice in the European Commission. India's Basmati exports to the EU have steadily increased over the past three years. Pakistan's claim to obtain a GI tag for its Basmati rice has further strained relations between the two neighbours.

Rising exports

According to commerce ministry data, Indian exports of agricultural products to European countries increased by 18.65% to $3.70 billion in FY24 from $3.12 billion in FY23 and $2.94 billion in FY22.

Similarly, exports of all goods to Europe posted an increase of 1.5% to $98.88 billion in FY24 from $97.45 billion in FY23 and $85.20 billion in FY22.

In fruit and vegetables, India exports grapes, pomegranates, mangoes, bananas, oranges, onions, mixed vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes, and green chilies to European nations.

Also read | WTO sees signs of trade revival, but risks from fragmentation

"India is closely monitoring the situation and will act at an appropriate time. Certainly, there are some sticky issues related to SPS measures that are creating roadblocks in the export of goods. These issues are being discussed and will be further deliberated upon during the 8th round of FTA negotiations set to start in May or early June," one of the persons cited above said.

The European Commission’s spokesperson for trade and agriculture, Olof Gill, said, “The EU has strict SPS import rules (which include food safety standards) that need to be complied with by all countries exporting to the EU, as well as by EU producers."

Standards in place

“The food safety standards are in place to ensure a high level of SPS protection in the EU, i.e., to protect the safety of EU consumers and the production of animals and plants," Gill added.

The EC spokesperson maintained that these rules are not negotiable and they remain in place even after a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) comes into force. In other words, the rules apply equally to imports from all countries, with or without an FTA.

Also read | WTO flags rising trade barriers, says time to re-globalize

“In its request to the WTO submitted on 24 April, South Africa challenged the EU's prohibition on the importation of South African citrus fruit affected by the fungus 'citrus black spot," a WTO official statement stated.

South Africa claims the EU measure appears to be inconsistent with various provisions of the WTO's agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPM). 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dhirendra Kumar
A seasoned journalist well-versed in the intricate realms of policy matters concerning commerce and trade, consumer affairs, and textiles, With a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of the complexities of these sectors, I strive to deliver comprehensive and informative coverage that sheds light on key issues, trends, and developments.
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Published: 05 May 2024, 05:25 PM IST
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