The European Commission (EC) has published the application of Pakistan seeking a Geographical Indication (GI) tag for its basmati rice in a significant development. However, there are several inconsistencies besides conflict with India in Islamabad’s application.

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It could probably face a setback and strengthen India’s case, experts say. More importantly, the document which questions the sovereignty of India by showing Indian territories as those in Pakistan could throw a spanner in India’s free trade agreement (FTA) talks with the European Union.

The EC has published the application even as India’s basmati GI application has been put in cold storage since July 2018. “The document prepared by the EC based on Pakistan’s application represents and reflects its preliminary view,” said S Chandrasekaran, a GI expert who has written the book “Basmati Rice: The Natural History Geographical Indication”. 

Difference in approach

The Pakistan application has problems with description of the product, “concise” definition of the geographical area where basmati rice is grown, conflict of interest with India’s Pusa-1121 variety, environmental factors, historical origin and reputation.

According to Chandrasekaran, the document published by the EC reveals a difference in the “approach and integrity of the growing area”. “In terms of quality, the EC document reflects the fact that India is the authentic source of Basmati,” he said, adding PK1121 is a notified basmati variety of Pakistan as India’s Pusa-1121 and it will give rise to a “conflict of interest”. 

The GI expert said the EC document describes that Basmati is “also being grown in specific areas of India”.  “When the EU published the Indian application, it did not include Pakistan. Since India submitted the application to the EC in 2018, probably, the EC did not have an option but to mention Indian areas in the document published for Pakistani application,” he said.

Reference to J & K

The contentious part of the document is the reference to Jammu and Kashmir areas such as Mirupur, Bhimber, Poonch and Bagh. Pakistan has mentioned Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a growing region but this will be bitterly contested since it is a “non-contiguous” area. This is seen as questioning India’s sovereignty and emerge an impediment in the India-EU FTA talks, experts say. 

“Areas such as Bahwalpur, Rahimyar Khan are adjacent to the Thar desert. These expose the lack of environmental determinism in the GI application,” Chandrasekaran said. 

For GI, the sanctity is the area where the rice is grown. In the case of Pakistan, it is deeply flawed in the published EC document. 

The GI expert said the approach to the roots of the word “Basmati” by India and Pakistan differ sharply.  “The reputation of the word is also linked to language and its existence. The Pakistan document published by the EC loses ground on this account,” he said.

Pusa-1509 at risk

The Pakistan application refers to certain literatures that are contemporary in nature and they do not have any historic reputation. “This will be a major setback for Pakistan,” said Chandrasekaran.

Pointing out to the differences in the Indian and Pakistan applications, the expert said India, dwelling on solar radiation and day length, said the length of the day in basmati growing regions is longer than in central or southern India. 

The Pakistan application says from late September onwards the temperature drops and days become clearer (instead of sunshine hours duration) and milder (25-32 degrees Celsius). Such climatic conditions are ideal for the development of the unique fragrance and other specific characteristics of basmati rice, Islamabad has said.

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“The impact of the EC Pakistan document is that it sets a tone that the fragrant rice is harvested from mid-October. Based on this, Pusa-1509 might be under risk,” Chandrasekaran said. 

Uneasy developments

Earlier this month, the EC made public its database eAmbrosia showing that Pakistan sought the GI tag for its basmati rice. But there are certain uneasy developments with regard to this.  

Islamabad published its definition of basmati rice, a must for getting GI tag, on August 28, 2023. However, eAmbrosia updated Pakistan’s status on August 24, 2023.