Business & Economy

Battle over basmati: India, Pakistan fight for long-grain rice GI tag

By David Asta Alares and Jaime Leon

New Delhi/Islamabad June 23 (EFE).- India and Pakistan have fought three wars and numerous minor conflicts, mainly over the territorial dispute of Kashmir. But their latest tussle is for the Geographical Indication tag of basmati rice in the European Union (EU) offices.

The final decision may swing either way, and the result may have massive financial consequences for the country that may lose the case.

It all began in 2018 when India applied for the exclusive Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) tag for the long-grain rice in the EU made public last year.

Pakistan opposed the move and claimed the tag.

“Basmati belongs to Pakistan,” Aliya Hamza Malik, member of parliament and Parliamentary Secretary for the Commerce Ministry, told EFE.

Malik said the basmati rice initially grew only on Pakistani soil and that India began planting it from 1965 onward after taking seeds from Pakistan.

India and Pakistan gained independence from the British in 1947 and have since fought three wars and numerous minor conflicts. Their relations are generally always strained.

Basmati rice grows mainly in northern India and southern Pakistan especially, near their respective borders.

These two countries are the only exporters of basmati rice.

India is responsible for 65 percent, and Pakistan for 35 percent of all international sales of the rice used to cook popular dishes in the subcontinent like biriyani and pulao.

PGI tag protects a product against any usurpation or imitation. It guarantees the true origin of the product for its consumers, according to the EU.

So if India has its way, Pakistan will not be able to market its basmati under the same name in the European Union, which would hamper its exports.

After textiles, rice is Pakistan’s most exported product, with 4.1 million tons worth $2.175 billion sent abroad last year, Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) Chairman Abdul Qayum Paracha told EFE.

Of this, 890 tons worth $1 billion was basmati, and the EU imported an amount worth $225 million from Pakistan.

The figures pale compared with that of India, which exported 17.5 million tons of rice last year, of which 4.5 million tons was basmati worth $8.8 billion, Vinod Kumar Kaulm, the All India Rice Exporters Association’s executive director, told EFE.

But given Pakistan’s battered economy and its negative trade balance, basmati is one of its main export items.

The export of Pakistani basmati has almost doubled since 2016.

But India’s exports have declined due to stricter pesticide control standards in the European Union in 2018, especially the banning of tricyclazole.

“The exporters were very very cautious and exported only what was fully compliant,” said Kaul.

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