Over 500 organic agriculture and food containers have been stuck at various places across the country due to a “software problem” that has cropped up in the European Commission’s digital certification and management platform, Traces NT, for Indian consignments. 

The online digital platform helps accredited certification bodies digitally sign and stamp the “Certificate of Inspection” for organic produce imported into the European Union.  This pertains mainly to Category A products, mainly raw materials such as Basmati rice, cardamom and other spices such as turmeric. 

In force from 2020

“The system was implemented in June 2020. The arrangement for the digital platform is a certification body will have to get its certification process approved by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), the body that monitors such exports.

“APEDA approves the certification and forwards it to the European Commission for issuing the e-seal. The EU was a little liberal in implementing this due to the Covid pandemic. But now, Indian exporters are facing problems due to the software, which could have been tweaked to ensure all parties comply with the digital certification process,” said an organic trader, not wishing to identify.

When contacted, official sources said, “As per new EU requirements, e-seal is mandatory on COI. While signing COI, certification bodies were facing technical issues. We communicated with the EU Traces team and resolved it.”

Problem only with India?

“We will examine the issue closely and will resolve any problem (to ensure smooth exports),” the sources said. 

A trade analyst said the issue is confined to India alone and Indian certification bodies. “There are two issues to this. One, Indian authorities have been slack to implement the e-seal process. Two, Indian certification bodies were either not fully conversant with the process or were not informed,” the analyst said. 

One of the certification bodies Ecocert, a French firm, informed its clients that the “Certificate of Inspection” would be signed and stamped digitally. It said in a communication in June 2020 that the certificate could be signed in the Traces system with a qualified electronic seal. 

Only Indian certification bodies are facing the issue as five of the major foreign certification firms, including Ecocert, have been banned by the European Union from clearing or ratifying exports of Indian processed organic food products earlier this year. 

Slack compliance

These certifying agencies failed to demonstrate that the products under their supervision were produced in accordance with the norms and subject to control arrangements equivalent to those laid down by the EC. 

India’s organic products exports are valued at nearly ₹9,000 crore annually with the European Union accounting for at least ₹7,000 crore. Since the organic products got held up for over a month before the clearance began recently, traders and analysts peg the value of the detained products at over ₹500 crore. 

The trade analyst said Indian officials should have dealt with this issue more carefully and fulfilled the norms to ensure exporters were not affected. “We lost USDA recognition for organic certification as we were slack in complying with the stipulation. The same slackness has affected in complying with the EU norms on digital certification too,” he said. 

The current problem has resulted in some wondering why rice is not treated as a “processed item” since paddy is processed to produce rice. “According to the European Commission, de-husking of paddy is not treated as a process,” the exporter said.