Australia has rejected India’s application seeking a geographical indication (GI) tag for its basmati rice in what could turn out to be an interesting trade tussle. Canberra has rejected the application on the grounds that it is “not grown only in India”.

Following the rejection of the application, filed in February 2019 for Basmati’s name and logo, India has moved the Federal Court of Australia in appeal and hopes it will succeed in its efforts.

“Australia has rejected our application for GI,” said M Angamuthu, Chairman, the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA).

“We have already filed an appeal. (An) Appeal has been filed before the Federal Court of Australia on February 1, 2023, against Basamti name,” he said.

“Australia contends that rice growers outside of India have an equally valid claim to use the term, Basmati. The interpretation of reputation of GI products by Australian authorities is the thinking of the new world,” said S Chandrasekaran, an expert in GI andauthor of “Basmati Rice: The Natural History Geographical Indiction”.

Read also: After Egypt, Thailand wants to grow Basmati and export it to West Asia

Ongoing process

APEDA is the authority that promotes exports and takes care of GI registration for Indian products abroad. 

“It is (GI registration) an ongoing process and we will appeal again. This will not have any impact on our trade as such,” the APEDA Chairman said.

“I think India has not explained the facts properly. It is a product that is grown only in North India and Pakistan. The GI stage for India’s Basmati rice is well established, It will be corrected in due course,” said Vijay Setia, former president of All India Rice Exporters Association and Director, Chaman Lal Setia Exports Ltd.

“The rejection of GI tag by Australia is immaterial. We are trading under the same terms and conditions for Basmati rice world over,” said Delhi-based exporter Rajesh Paharia Jain.

Chandrasekaran said the thinking of the new world on GI law “pertains to European immigrants who carried a protected product name into their new home territory and use it commercially as seen in Latin America, South Africa and the US”. It conflicts with the “Oriental and European system”.

“We required appropriate strategy and tactics to deal with these new world countries in our national interests,” he said.

“It is a fight between two neighbours — India and Pakistan. We have fought against the US on the same issue. Such decision will not affect us,” Jain said.

Experts, including Chandrasekaran, feel India missed a trick or two while finalising the free trade agreement (FTA) with Australia. In the stock market, shares of Basmati rice companies fell by 1 per cent on Friday.

“The current rejection of Basmati GI tag by Australia is a missed opportunity by India to incorporate Basmati rice GI protection in the first round. India needs to take this up in the second stage,” Chandrasekaran said.

This could help India to address the long-pending issue over GI tag in the US too, he said. US reluctance to offer GI Tag could be pointed towards a patent that RiceTec, which got a patent for Texmati rice in the US with Basmati properties and India had fought tooth and nail to get it reversed.

pending issue

India faced a similar problem of getting a GI tag for basmati rice in the European Union after Pakistan objected to the tag. The European Commission asked India and Pakistan to come to some solution through talks but no solution was reached. As a result, the issue is still pending.

Chandrasekaran said the issue might now figure in Europe’s FTA talks with India with the former trying to bargain something in the talks.

Angamuthu and trade experts feel Australia’s decision will not affect trade as it imports about 50,000 tonnes of basmati annually with shipments of 35,112 tonnes valued at ₹351.78 crore during the April-December period of the current fiscal. 

Last fiscal, it imported 43,977 tonnes valued at ₹370 crore and in 2020-21, it purchased 57,989 tonnes worth ₹480.82 crore. Of India’s total Basmati rice exports, Australia’s share is a little over 1 per cent.