Agri Business

India faces tricky new EU ‘authenticity protocol’ for Basmati rice

Subramani Ra Mancombu Chennai | Updated on June 08, 2021

New Delhi seeks more time to settle PGI status issue with Pakistan

Even as India has sought a three-month extension from the European Union (EU) to negotiate and resolve with Pakistan its dispute over Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for Basmati rice, it could face a tricky situation with EU trying to set up a “New Basmati Authenticity Protocol”.

The Food Authenticity Research Network, which is part of the European Commission, has done a detailed project on Basmati authenticity between 2016 and 2018.

The focus of the project was “Basmati rice bulked up with cheaper alternatives”. The Joint Research Centre of European Commission has been conducting research on Basmati authenticity for over a decade now.

‘Depending on needs’

But in December last year, the EU said that it was working on the new authenticity protocol for Basmati rice “depending on needs”. Trade experts point out that the EU came up with this statement after India sought PGI status for its Basmati rice.

Trade expert and author of the book Basmati rice: The Natural History and Geographical Indication S Chandrasekaran wonders: “When the authenticity of basmati has already been established by India and it is part of India’s GI Application to the EU, why should the European Standards Committee want to work on the creation of a New Basmati Authenticity Protocol?

“Does it mean European Commission wants to review Indian version of authenticity and subsequently definition?”

‘Basmati rice being reduced to a generic variety from an exclusive one’

11 varieties validated

According to Chandrasekaran, India had 11 varieties of Basmati rice that were validated through DNA testing protocol in 2005 when the EU Basmati Import Regime was modified through negotiations on General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Article XXVIII.

Subsequently, India notified 24 more Basmati varieties. “The current authenticity project of the European Commission could also be seen in the context of its recent proposal — inclusion of additional varieties through Modification of Concession under GATT Article XXVIII,” he said.

During the Indo-EU summit in 2017, India sought inclusion of additional Basmati rice varieties as per the Modification of Concession under GATT.

How EU could grant exclusive GI tag for Indian Basmati rice

“Efforts were made to include additional varieties so that the PGI status can be given to all additional varieties. The question is, will the 24 varieties be scrutinised for authenticity and to see if they have links to the native traits,” said Chandrasekaran.

CN code

On its part, the EU contends that if more new varieties enter Europe, it needs to identify whether they are Basmati or some other variety. It plans to come out with a new protocol for this.

The EU plans to create a new protocol also because of the UK’s “Brexit”.

From January 1, 2017, EU statistics began quantifying the share of aromatic rice (Basmati and others such as Jasmine) among its total imports.

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In order to facilitate this, it published the revision of the CN (combined nomenclature) code for aromatic/fragrant rice on October 28, 2016, and created new codes for aromatic rice. This is viewed as another reason for the EU’s keenness for the new authenticity protocol.

The situation is tricky because all additional Basmati varieties will have to pass the native trait tests. Also, it is likely that Pakistan’s varieties may not pass muster as the cultivation of the fragrant rice variety began only after Partition, says Chandrasekaran.

India could have sought time with this in mind to ensure no problem crops up in the future.

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Seeks more time

Meanwhile, asked about a European Commission spokesman telling Agence France-Presse that India had sought the extension, official sources confirmed that New Delhi had sought time on the issue. It gives India time till September to find a solution.

But trade analysts see a couple of reasons why Indian authorities have sought time, though they do not expect India and Pakistan to jointly apply for the “common heritage” that Basmati rice represents.

Malik Faisal Jahangir, vice-president of the Pakistan Rice Exporters Association, is among those who have been suggesting a joint application by both nations for PGI status to Basmati rice.

PGI status grants intellectual property rights for products linked to a geographic area where at least one stage of production, processing, or preparation takes place. India’s Darjeeling tea enjoys such a status.

India had applied for the PGI status in August last year for the status that would give it sole ownership of the Basmati rice title in the European Union. Pakistan opposed the application in December.

As per EU regulations, both countries had time till May 9 to settle the issue through talks but nothing has happened yet.

‘Joint application’

Chandrasekaran said it will be difficult for India to jointly apply for PGI status along with Pakistan.

In August last year, Pakistan had changed its map to include Jammu and Kashmir. When both nations apply for a joint status, Pakistan would be presenting Jammu and Kashmir as its integral part where Basmati rice is grown. India, too, will include Jammu and Kashmir. This will create problems for both but more importantly, in the case of joint application it would look as if India is endorsing Pakistan’s map showing Jammu and Kashmir as its integral part.

Until the Indian government finds a solution on this issue, the option of a joint application is ruled out, says Chandrasekaran.

India’s move to seek time could also be in view of the progress made in Indo-EU talks. At the Indo-EU summit on May 8, both parties resolved to protect Geographical Indications. While India is seeking PGI status for its Basmati, the EU wants market access, especially for its wines and spirits.

Trade experts say that India could probably speed up the negotiations with the EU to get a special status for its Basmati rice.

India exported 4.63 million tonnes (mt) of Basmati rice during 2020-21 fiscal earning ₹29,849 crore compared with shipments of 4.45 mt worth ₹31,026 crore in the previous one.

During the April-February period of the last fiscal, EU imported 0.31 mt of Basmati rice (0.22 mt for the entire 2019-20) valued at ₹1,973.43 crore (₹1,478.63 crore).

Published on June 08, 2021

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