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Britain trying to break India, Pakistan basmati alliance
Business News India, April 2, 2004
Britain is trying to break a potential alliance between India and Pakistan designed to safeguard and get the best price for their prized long-grained aromatic basmati rice.

Following a finding that over one in six samples of basmati rice sold in Britain contained high levels of non-basmati varieties, Britain's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has been trying to evolve a code of practice for rice trade as well as the enforcement authorities.

Agreements had been reached on the methodology and criteria of true line or traditional basmati when at a meeting held in London last month, India was rudely shaken by Britain's volte-face.

India and Pakistan are the only two countries where basmati has been traditionally grown. However, India is home to six of the true line varieties while both countries claim a share in the seventh variety.

At stake is the fate of several other varieties widely exported from Pakistan and India, which are mixed reportedly by some unscrupulous traders in the name of the prized varieties.

To stop this under the code of practice, Britain is planning to have tighter specifications for labelling the country of origin and variety.

"FSA now wants to change the definition of traditional varieties and bring in more changes in the agreement without any basis," said a senior official who was part of the negotiation team.

"By using different yardsticks for basmati imported from both the countries, Britain is trying to create a strife," said the official.

India has opposed the move and any further negotiations "until and unless we get an assurance from Britain that FSA would honour the common grounds already covered and that they would not be reopened for future negotiations".

India has insisted that the contemporary documents, plant and grain data and physical samples it has submitted be the basis of the code of practice.

In a letter to the FSA director, India has stated that it cannot be a party to any attempt to "dilute basmati standards" that makes consumers suffer.

This includes Britain's demand that British traders be allowed to sell a mix of traditional Indian basmati with up to 25 percent stock imported from Pakistan.

Instead, India has "taken a high moral ground" that consumers seeking the highly prized rice, which sells at twice the price of non-basmati rice, should be given 97 percent of basmati sourced from India.

In the matter of broken stock, India has also turned down a suggestion for raising permissible levels from 10 percent to 25 percent.

The issue is very sensitive for both India and Pakistan as they are competitors in the same markets, particularly the Middle East and Europe. India exports around 700,000 tonnes of basmati annually, which is a little more than Pakistan's export.

In 2002-03, India had exported 710,292 tonnes of basmati. This year it hopes to cross the 700,000 tonnes mark again -- though till December exports were lower at 413,245 tonnes compared to the previous year.

While the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, is the biggest market for basmati, Britain is a market for around 160,000 tonnes.

Britain's change in stance comes at a crucial juncture when the European Union (EU) is under pressure from the US to stop the 250 euros per tonne duty benefit being provided to traditional basmati varieties.

The EU market accounts for 13 percent of India's basmati exports.

Only last month, after decades of non-communication, rice exporters in India and Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a committee to study ways to protect their rich traditional heritage through geographical indication (GI) registration of true line varieties.

Both the sides have agreed to share data and documentation to help in the registration process.

"In the current scenario with relations between basmati traders having reached some understanding we do not want to jeopardise it," the official said, disclosing that Pakistan is moving ahead with plans to host a conference later this year to further cooperation on basmati.
MGR Archive 3.4.2004
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