The Commerce and Industry Ministry is weighing the merits of expanding the codes of classification (HSN codes) for rice so that the varieties of non-basmati rice that are not traditionally consumed in the country can be separated from the popular staple variety of non-basmati white rice and excluded from export curbs when restrictions are being contemplated on the latter.

The interests of all stakeholders, including farmers, however have to be kept in mind while deliberating the matter, so a decision would be taken by the government only after extensive consultations, said Rajesh Agarwal, Additional Secretary, Commerce Department. The government has temporarily banned all categories of non-basmati white rice for exports.

At present, there are just six HSN codes for non-basmati rice while there are 30-40 varieties of such rice grown in the country. “There is a demand from the industry for new HSN codes for other varieties of rice... When we ban non-basmati white rice, all varieties get banned, whether it is sona masuri, govind bhog and kala namak or the normal non-basmati white rice which is our core concern. The question is how do we differentiate. That is a debate that we are having internally. We are trying to see if there is merit in doing so,” Agarwal said at a media interaction.

Interests of all stakeholders need to be balanced while considering the matter, the additional secretary said, “As a country, on one hand we will not like to impose ban on rice varieties which we are not much worried about (in terms of domestic shortages). At the same time we would need to see there is enough incentive for farmers to keep on producing the normal variety of rice, which is the core staple diet  of the country. We need to balance this. That is a decision that the Department of Commerce will take after detailed stakeholder consultation,” Agarwal added.

Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) is working on separate HSN codes for GI (Geographical Indications) rice varieties like red rice, black rice and kalanamak rice, per a presentation by APEDA chairperson Abhishek Dev.

The country’s agriculture exports may decline by 9 per cent this year primarily due to restrictions on exports of rice, sugar, and wheat, according to APEDA.

The Red Sea crisis may have some impact on India’s basmati exports this year to the EU and Egypt but the country’s primary exports to West Asia will not be hampered, another official said.