Global trade bodies upset with India mandating non-GM certification

G Chandrashekhar | Updated on April 09, 2021

The order effective March 1 is seen as a non-tariff barrier imposed by India

International trade promotion institutions have protested against the recent government order that requires all import consignments of as many as 24 specified food commodities should be accompanied by a non-genetically modified (non-GM) and GM-free certificate issued by a competent authority of the exporting country.

The order takes effect from shipments made from March 1, 2021 onwards. The insistence of non-GM certificate is widely seen as a non-tariff barrier imposed by India.

The list of 24 food commodities includes grains (alfalfa, maize, rice, wheat), pulses (cowpea, bean), oilseeds (soybean, canola, flaxseed, safflowerseed), fruits (apple, melon, papaya, pineapple, plum), vegetables (egg plant, potato, tomato) and a few more.

Trade-disruptive order

The Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture, in a recent report, described the order as trade-disruptive and non-science-based. A trade expert said that he suspected pressure on the government by activists/lobby groups opposed to new technology in the food sector.

International trade bodies such as the London-based Grain and Feed Trade Association (GAFTA) and Dubai-headquartered Global Pulse Confederation (GPC) have protested against the non-GM certificate requirement.

According to GAFTA and GPC, many food products in the list have no GM traits commercialised globally and the onerous requirement of producing a non-GM certificate may limit the flow of goods to India. Also, there are doubts about the adequacy of testing facilities at export points.

Clarifications by FSSAI

In a series of clarification issued in recent months, FSSAI has stated that the order applies to only food products in the list and does not apply to processed food products in general. To address the risk of accidental contamination, a tolerance limit of one per cent has been fixed for adventitious presence of GMOs.

The USDA has announced that for the shipment of apples from the US, the Washington State Department of Agriculture, as an authorised regional government authority, will provide a certificate as required by India’s food safety authority.

Regarding pulses, cowpea (botanical name: Vigna unguiculate) and bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) are listed. The entry ‘bean’ would cover kidney bean, French bean and the like. Import of both cowpea and bean into the country is rather limited; and therefore, the impact on the Indian market will be negligible. Myanmar has reportedly started to issue the requisite certificate.

Trade bodies have confirmed that they have sought time with FSSAI officials for a discussion. The thrust of their argument is that the decision is not science-based and that the order would disrupt smooth international commodity trade.

(The author is a policy commentator and agribusiness specialist. Views are personal)

Published on April 09, 2021

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