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Wednesday, Sep 25, 2002

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Export, production ban on 5 seafood units

C.J. Punnathara
Deeptha Rajkumar

KOCHI, Sept. 24

IN a move that has sent shockwaves amongst the seafood export community, the Export Inspection Agency (EIA) has issued a directive to five major seafood units across the country for immediate stoppage of production and export. Total exports of these five units amount to Rs 500 crore per annum.

The units are the Hindustan Lever plant in Chorwad, Gujarat; International Creative Foods, Vashi, Navi Mumbai; Choice Canning Company, Kochi; Integrated Rubian, Aroor and Victoria Marines, Chennai. These five units process only value-added products.

These were summary instructions issued without any prior notice or show cause to the units concerned, sources in the seafood export industry said.

In addition, 17 of the largest export houses have been placed on compulsory consignment inspection of goods before export. The responsibility for all inspection and exports from these units will now fall on the Export Inspection Officer. "In the eventuality of rejections by the importing countries, the responsibility will fall on the officer,'' sources in the industry said.

"With this major responsibility vested in him, there is no way he is going to pass any consignment for export. In effect, the value of exports from these units will add to another Rs 1,000 crore," the sources added.

The five seafood units have been banned by the EIA because they have had more than one rejection in the current fiscal.

"As these units were instructed to stop production with immediate effect, hundreds of tonnes of highly perishable raw material are on the floor and in the pipeline from fishermen and farmers. Such a move will cripple the industry,'' an exporter told Business Line.

It is reliably learnt that these five units have over Rs 30 crore of cargo ready for shipmentAnd, their major exports are to the US and Japan where these units have been green ticketed by the Food ND drug Administration for automatic passage. These units also pack established brands for the Japanese market.

``If these units have a problem with the EU, it does not make sense to ban their export to other markets. These are all orders against letters of credit already opened and against long term contracts and commitments. These units will now face claims for non-fulfilment of shipments and cancellation of long-term contracts,'' sources said.

For instance, the HLL plant in Chorwad is one of the largest `Surmi' processing plants in the world. It handles over 500 tonnes of fish a day. Over one lakh fishermen supply to this unit their low value fish, which otherwise has no commercial value.

This unit has had two rejections this year. One, a consignment to Norway for cholera which was ultimately bought back and tested in India by five different agencies, none of whom could detect the presence of cholera bacteria.

The EIA then reportedly permitted in writing the same goods to be re-exported. The other rejection was in Spain for technical reason, which was subsequently corrected.

Most of the rejections for the other four banned units have also been on the basis of the presence of "bacterial inhibitors". These rejections have all taken place in Spain.

"Besides, all the rejections for cholera was only in Norway and in every case the consignments were brought back, tested by all agencies in our country and again permitted for re-export. A moot point that is of significance is that Norway is the largest producer of cold water shrimps and our warm water shrimps compete directly with their product in all international markets," an exporter argued.

It is reliably learnt that subsequent to the last rejections in the EU of these five units, they have exported over 100 containers, which have been tested and passed by different EU health authorities.

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