India is gearing up to back Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s suggestion earlier this week to US President Joe Biden that India could supply food stocks to the world. The Commerce Ministry has already set in place an internal mechanism to facilitate food exports and get the paperwork ready for related sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) applications. An additional spurt to the ministry’s efforts is provided by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has spurred the demand, especially for Indian wheat exports.

Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, however, is reluctant to characterise it as an “opportunity” for India’s food exports. “As the PM has said, this is the time for compassion and fulfilling a need that has arisen out of a very unfortunate situation,” Goyal said.

Internal committee

But the minister’s department is busy behind the scenes. An internal committee has been set up to study 180 countries for their food import requirements. For each country, specific import items would be examined and related applications would be made. The ministry is consulting exports on the SPS measures and has plans to make as many as 2,000 SPS applications to facilitate exports.

“There is vast paperwork to be done. But it is a task we welcome when we have abundance and we can definitely fulfill the need for food,” Goyal told BusinessLine. The “abundance” was a reference to India’s stocks which, in the case of current stocks for wheat alone, is 2.5 times over the buffer norms. India has enough supplies for the PDS.

Rising MENA demand

In the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the demand from the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries, which are entirely dependent on the two warring nations for their wheat imports, has escalated. In the last 40 days alone, contracts have been signed for exports worth 30-40 lakh tonnes of wheat, which is almost half of what was exported in the entire 2021-22.

The Egyptian delegation visited facilities of the Punjab Warehouse Corporation on Wednesday

The Egyptian delegation visited facilities of the Punjab Warehouse Corporation on Wednesday | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A team from Egypt is currently in India to speed up the wheat exports agreed on by the Commerce Minister with his counterpart, the Egyptian Minister of Economic Development Hala El-Said, in Dubai in March. Egypt is among the largest importers of wheat from Russia and Ukraine and all previous attempts by India to get a foot in have been in vain.

“We have been trying for Egypt for several years. But when I met the Egyptian Minister recently, the urgency was apparent. Their teams are here now,” Goyal said.