In response to strong criticism from Opposition parties on recent import duty cuts on eight products from the US, including apples, walnuts and almonds, the Centre on Tuesday clarified that it was only retaliatory duties and not basic customs duties that had been removed and also assured that the situation was being closely monitored to ensure there was no “adverse impact” on domestic producers.

“There is no reduction in the customs duty on apples, walnuts and almonds, which still applies to all imports, including US-origin products, at 50 per cent, 100 per cent and ₹100 per kg, respectively,” explained Peeyush Kumar, Additional Secretary, Commerce Department.

Additional duties

What has been removed are the additional duties of 20 per cent each on apples and walnuts and ₹20 per kg on almonds, that were imposed in 2019 on imports from the US. This was in retaliation to the Trump administration’s decision to impose additional import duties of 25 per cent and 10 per cent on Indian steel and aluminium respectively the year before.

Per the resolution, the US agreed to remove the additional import duties for at least 3.36 lakh tonne of imports of steel and aluminium per annum under the ‘exclusion process’, while India agreed to remove its retaliatory duties on 8 of the total 28 items on which it had imposed additional levies.

“This measure will not result in any negative impact on domestic apple, walnut and almond producers. Rather, it will result in competition in the premium market segment of apples, walnuts and almonds, thereby ensuring better quality at competitive prices for our Indian consumers. Thus, the US apples, walnuts and almonds would compete on the same level playing field as all other countries,” according to the Commerce Department.

Imports from US

India’s apple import from the US dropped to only $5.27 million (4,486 tonnes) in 2022-23 from $145 million (127,908 tonnes) in 2018-19 after India imposed the retaliatory tariffs. But imports from countries, other than the US, increased to $290 million in 2022-23 from $160 million in 2018-19. This indicated that market share of the US apples was taken by other countries, such as Turkey, Chile, New Zealand and Italy, the official explained. Imports of walnuts also dipped to 3,806 tonnes in 2022 from 8,663 tonnes in 2019.

But, Kumar assured that the situation was being monitored and if an adverse impact on the market was detected, based on information given by the agriculture department and J&K government, “we will definitely act on it”. He said there was a regular meeting taking place with the J&K government and the Ministry of Home Affairs.

A minimum import price of ₹50 per kg for imports from all countries, except Bhutan, was already imposed in May this year following consultations with J&K, the official added.

To ensure that the US keeps the other end of the bargain on steel and aluminium, a joint monitoring mechanism was being established to enable domestic exports of at least 3.36 lakh tonnes of certain steel and aluminium products in a year to America without paying extra duties, Kumar said.