India will continue to pursue its application for an exclusive Geographical Indication (GI) tag for its basmati rice in the European Union (EU) and not consider any other solution as it could affect the exclusivity of the fragrant rice in other markets, official sources have said. 

According to traders and experts, the EU is probably trying to “browbeat India (from its firm stand) in its trade talks to gain access to its wines and whiskey”. 

The development comes on the heels of the EU trying to put pressure on India to amend its application by including the basmati-growing areas in Pakistan or submit a new joint application along with Pakistan. The issue of the GI tag for Indian basmati rice has been pending since July 2018.

Pak map with Jammu

“India should and cannot accept the EU’s proposal. In August 2020, after the abrogation of Article 370 which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan published a map showing Jammu as part of its territory.

“When a joint application is made, the map of both countries will have to be included. This will mean India accepting Jammu to be part of Pakistan. This is untenable,” said S Chandrasekaran, a GI expert who has written the book “Basmati Rice: The Natural History Geographical Indication”. 

The Ministry of External Affairs, which was consulted by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, has suggested to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Agency (APEDA) to solely pursue the application for GI tag.

APEDA, which is the nodal agency to get GI tag for Indian products, has been told not to consider other options such as submission of an amended application by including Basmati producing areas of Pakistan or submission of a fresh joint application with Pakistan.

12 objections filed

“Pakistan is yet to come up with any definition of basmati. It has no physical standard and has not notified the DNA standard. India made all these in 2003 and the Food Safety Standards Authority of India has come up with the domestic standard for basmati,” said Chandrasekaran.

When contacted, APEDA Chairman M Angamuthu said 12 objections, including two from Pakistan, were lodged against India’s application for a GI tag to basmati in the EU.  

“The legal representatives of APEDA have been asked to engage with the legal representatives of those who objected to India’s GI tag application as required under EU regulations. Discussions are strictly at the level of representation and no APEDA or government functionary is involved,” he said. 

“Since the consultations and informal discussions period with those opposed to our application have ended, our legal associate has submitted reports to the European Commission. The EU is now seized of the matter,” he said.

‘EU feeling obliged’

Official sources said the EC is “feeling obliged to protect basmati originating from Pakistan (as well as India) and it prefers a single registration for the “Basmati” name “to respect the rights of both origins”.

“Why is the EU going the extra mile to support Pakistan, when it has to uphold the pillars of authenticity and quality standards? Looks like the EU is trying to manipulate without understanding the fact that India is sitting in an advantageous position,” he said. 

Between 2001 and now, India’s basmati exports to the EU increased from 100,000 tonnes to 400,000 tonnes before slipping to 150,000 tonnes. 

“During the same time, total basmati exports from the country increased from one million tonnes (mt) to 4.5 mt with demand for West Asia outstripping that of the EU. Also, the UK, which makes up 50 per cent of demand for Indian basmati had come out of the EU,” the expert said. 

Also, with the issue of fungicide tricyclazole residue in rice consignments blowing over, the EU has no grounds to negotiate, he said. 

Single document hope

“Is the EU trying to infuse oxygen into Pakistan basmati whose shipments are down 35 per cent this fiscal?” Chandrasekaran wondered.  

Angamuthu said the European Commission has received details of Pakistan-growing areas and is expected to ask Pakistan to demonstrate that the growing areas satisfy the environmental factors of the single document as presented by India in its GI application. 

Official sources said the Commission is hoping to draw a single document with its officials sitting along with Indian and Pakistani officials. “Such a development could affect APEDA’s applications pending in other countries since the Intellectual Property offices there might object or Pakistan itself may launch objections. 

However, Angamuthu said APEDA had initiated over 1,000 proceedings including oppositions and cancellations in over 40 countries across five continents to protect the name “Basmati”. It successfully prevented several instances of misappropriation including names such as “Basnati” “Kasmati”, “Texmati”, “Tasmati”, “Jasmati, “Basma”, etc.

Forcing surrender

“APEDA forced a substantial surrender of several claims of a patent taken out in the US which sought to confer a monopoly on the RiceTec Inc, a US Company, for the growing, producing and marketing of rice grains that would have exposed exports of basmati from India to the US to claims of patent infringement in that country.

Also read: Setback. Australia rejects India’s Basmati rice GI tag application

So far, India has got a Geographical Indication tag for Basmati in four countries and certification marks for Basmati in seven countries, including the UK and China.

“Application for GI, certification marks and logo have been filed in over 20 foreign jurisdictions to register Basmati. Major foreign jurisdictions where India’s applications for these are under various stages of processes include the EU, the US, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, etc,” the APEDA Chairman said.