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Indian Govt Stands Firm to Get Exclusive EU Tag for Basmati Rice

According to official sources, India will keep working on its application for an exclusive Geographical Indication (GI) tag for its basmati rice in the European Union (EU) and will not consider any other solution because it could jeopardize the fragrant rice's exclusivity in other markets.

Shivam Dwivedi
EC feels obligated to protect basmati originating in both Pakistan and India
EC feels obligated to protect basmati originating in both Pakistan and India

According to traders & experts, the EU is probably trying to "browbeat India (from its firm stand) in its trade talks to gain access to its wines and whisky." The development follows the EU's attempt to put pressure on India to modify its application by including basmati-growing areas in Pakistan or to file an additional joint application with Pakistan. Since July 2018, the issue of the GI tag for Indian basmati rice has been pending.

"Neither India should nor cannot accept the EU proposal. After repealing Article 370, which granted Jammu and Kashmir special status, Pakistan published a map depicting Jammu as part of its territory in August 2020. "When submitting a joint application, both countries' maps must be included. This will imply that India accepts Jammu as part of Pakistan. This is untenable," said S Chandrasekaran, a GI expert who has written the book "Basmati Rice: The Natural History Geographical Indication".

The Ministry of External Affairs, after consulting with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, advised the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Agency (APEDA) to focus solely on the GI tag application. APEDA, the nodal agency for obtaining GI tags for Indian products, has been instructed not to consider other options, such as submitting an amended application that includes Basmati-producing areas in Pakistan, or submitting a new joint application with Pakistan.

"Pakistan has yet to develop a definition of basmati. It does not have a physical standard and has not informed the DNA standard. "India made all of these in 2003, and the Food Safety Standards Authority of India established the domestic standard for basmati," Chandrasekaran explained.

When contacted, APEDA Chairman M Angamuthu stated that 12 objections, two of which were lodged by Pakistan, had been lodged against India's application for a GI tag for basmati in the EU. "The legal representatives of APEDA have been requested to interact with the legal representatives of those who opposed India's GI tag application as required under EU regulations. "Discussions are tightly at the representation level, with no APEDA or government functionary involved," he said.

"Since the discussions and conversations period with those opposed to our application has ended, our legal associate has submitted reports to the European Commission. "The EU is now in charge of the situation," he said. According to official sources, the EC "feels obligated to protect basmati originating in both Pakistan and India," and it prefers a single registration for the "Basmati" name "to respect the rights of both origins."

"Why is the EU going the extra mile to support Pakistan, when it has to uphold the pillars of authenticity and quality standards? "It appears that the EU is attempting to manipulate without realizing that India is in a favourable position," he said. Between 2001 and the present, India's basmati exports to the EU increased from 100,000 to 400,000 tonnes before falling to 150,000 tonnes.

"At the same time, total basmati exports from the country increased from one million tonnes (mt) to 4.5 mt, with demand for West Asia outstripping that of the EU. In addition, the UK, which accounts for 50% of Indian basmati demand, had left the EU," the expert explained.

Furthermore, with the fungicide tricyclazole residue in rice consignments blown over, the EU has no grounds to negotiate, he said. "Is the EU attempting to breathe new life into Pakistani basmati, whose shipments are down 35% this fiscal year?" Chandrasekaran was perplexed. The European Commission, according to Angamuthu, has received details of Pakistan-growing areas and is expected to ask Pakistan to demonstrate that the growing areas meet the environmental factors of the single document as presented by India in its GI application.

According to official sources, the Commission hopes to draught a single document with its officials sitting alongside Indian and Pakistani officials. "Such a development could affect APEDA's applications pending in other countries since the Intellectual Property offices there might object or Pakistan itself may launch objections.

However, Angamuthu said APEDA had started over 1,000 proceedings including oppositions and cancellations in over 40 countries across five continents to protect the name "Basmati". It was successful in preventing several instances of misappropriation, including names like "Basnati," "Kasmati," "Texmati," "Tasmati," "Jasmati," and "Basma."

"APEDA compelled a substantial surrender of many claims of a patent taken out in the US which desired to confer a dominance on the RiceTec Inc, a US Company, for the growing, producing and marketing of rice grains that would have exposed basmati exports from India to the USA to claims of patent infringement in that country.

So far, India has received Geographical Indication status for Basmati in four countries and certification status for Basmati in seven countries, including the United Kingdom and China.

"Applications for GI, certification marks, and logo have been filed in over 20 foreign jurisdictions to register Basmati. The EU, US, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Sri Lanka are among the major foreign jurisdictions where India's applications for these are in various stages of processing, according to the APEDA Chairman.

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