Agri Business

‘India should rely on history, evidence to get GI tag exclusively for Basmati in EU’

Subramani Ra Mancombu Chennai | Updated on May 09, 2021

Deadline for India, Pakistan to settle the issue amicably expires today

India and Pakistan are likely to get additional time to talk and settle the issue of exclusive rights via Geographical Indication (GI) tag to market Basmati rice in the European Union (EU), though there are views that the EU could settle the issue on its own or look to some “political solution”.

The six-month period for both nations to arrive at a mutual solution to the issue expires on Friday but no progress has been made, according to trade sources.

“The EU can take up the issue and decide on its own. More importantly, an India-EU summit is coming up. India could take advantage of the summit to solve the issue of marketing Basmati in the EU,” said a trade expert, who did not wish to be identified.

India unfazed by Pak’s GI tag registration on basmati

Last year, India had filed an application with the EU demanding that long-grain fragrant rice be treated as a produce originating from seven of its States and provide exclusive rights to New Delhi to sell Basmati in the territories of the union’s member countries.

Pakistan has opposed giving exclusive rights to India, contending that its farmers are also growing the variety. The Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan filed its objection to giving exclusive rights to India for selling Basmati in the EU on December 7 last year.

History speaks

According to S Chandrasekharan, author of the book “Basmati Rice: The Natural History Geographical Indication” , India should argue with the EU that various evidence is available to indicate that India holds exclusive rights to Basmati rice’s Geographical Indication (GI).

“The natural history of Basmati paddy cultivation dates back to several centuries in India,” he told BusinessLine. In fact, it was known as “Dehradun Basmati”, which was notified as an elite product on July 15, 1939, by the British after examination by the AGMARK Department officers.

He says that way back in 1955 itself Basmati rice exports exceeded one lakh tonnes, while Pakistan shipped out a meagre 629 tonnes.

It was the British who shaped the Indus Basin environment and also of North India.

After Punjab was annexed with the British empire in 1849, the British ruled in order to overcome the problem posed by the Sikh Army led by Raja Ranjeet Singh constructed canals and extended irrigation facilities.

Thus, West Punjab, now part of Pakistan, was made to supply cotton and wheat back to London.

He says that historically, Basmati was never grown in West Punjab during the pre-partition days.

“The suffixing of 370 with Basmati to the variety name Basmati 370 instead of geographical name is an important evidence of recent existence and lack of agriculture history in Pakistan,” Chandrasekharan argues.

Pointing out to the assets to be provided from United India to the newly created Pakistan in 1947, he said that non-inclusion of Basmati in the list of “Other than physical assets” (Partition proceedings: Volume II Assets and Liabilities - Expert committee No II - Annexure I) emphasises the fact that the implicit right of Basmati rice GI is exclusively vested with India.

According to Chandrasekaran, the EU emigrants carry a protected product name into their new home territory and use it commercially. Such things have happened in Latin America and South Africa, too.

“Pakistan’s GI Basmati claim issue is equivalent to the issue of European emmigrants’ demand for wine,” he said.

The author of the book on Basmati, who is also a trade analyst, says that during the negotiations on Article XXVII of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 2004, Pakistan only sought import duty derogation for cross-bred rice varieties such as Super Basmati and Kernel.

Indian basmati has historically been commanding a premium of $200 a tonne over the Pakistan variety and this is also based on the import duty derogation offered by the European Commission.

“This also is proof that Pakistan does not grow traditional Basmati varieties. India should take advantage of growing the traditional variety with the EU,” he said.

GI registration process

Chandrasekaran said that the Lahore-based Basmati Growers Association, which is funded by the Pakistan government, took part in India’s domestic GI registration process. “But it failed to file evidence (of growing Basmati traditionally) within the time prescribed to challenge petitions on GI registration,” he said.

If Pakistan was legitimate about its claim on Basmati, it should have formally taken part in the domestic GI registration process or challenged it in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It could have also lodged protests using the relevant provisions at the World Intellectual Property Organization, he said.

“These are proof that Pakistan had accepted our exclusive rights and left our claims on Basmati ownership unchallenged,” Chandrasekaran said.

Also, the promulgation of Pakistan’s Geographical Indication (Protection and Registration) At, 2020, only empowers the government in Islamabad to be exclusive owner of all domestic GIs.

Pakistan’s GI Act has inconsistencies that do not allow interested parties to contest claims against such registration. In comparison, India registration of Basmati as its GI product has been through a transparent process following well laid down policy and procedures.

“There has been no litigation against India’s GI Act in the last two decades since it came into force. It is ample proof that it is in compliance with WTO regulations,” the trade analyst said.

TRIPS to save India

Chandrasekaran also says that Article 22.1 of Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement could come to India’s rescue since it uses words such as “origin” and “territory” to the Basmati growing regions precisely.

The area’s definition is also based on quality, reputation and other characteristics. “Such precise Basmati growing origin is in India,” he says, pointing out the various advantages that India enjoys succeeding in its application.

Published on May 07, 2021

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