Asks New Delhi to prove that curbs address safety concerns

The European Union has questioned import restrictions by India on rough marbles and marble products at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and sought the rationale behind such curbs.

India has in place a quota of six lakh tonne for import of rough marble and travertine blocks and a minimum import price of $325 a tonne for 2013-14, the same as last year.

In a submission to the Import Licensing Committee of WTO last week, the EU’s representative asked India to clarify how unrestricted import of marble and marble products would pose safety issues for the country.

The EU also wants India to state how imposition of quantitative restrictions on import of marbles relates to security concerns.

While WTO rules do not ordinarily allow imposition of import restrictions, it is permitted if a country shows that such imports can result in a safety or security hazard.

India, like most other member countries, at times resorts to the safety and security caveat if it wants to impose import restrictions on certain products.

The EU further asked India to specify how safety and security issues are handled with regards to India’s domestic natural stone and stone processing industry.

Since India had earlier stated that the minimum import price is justified for quality reasons, the EU said the country should indicate measures put in place to ensure commensurate quality for India’s domestic industry.

An important reason for India’s restrictive import policy on marbles is protection of the local industry which employs a large number of poor and vulnerable people. The marble industry in Rajasthan reportedly employs more than two lakh families belonging to backward classes, minorities and tribal groups.

India will now have to provide detailed answers to the EU queries at the WTO.

“We have provided answers to other queries on the same issue earlier posed by other members. We would do the same this time as well,” a Commerce Ministry official told Business Line.

(This article was published on December 23, 2013)
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