Business & Economy

Spanish food unable to sit on Indian palate

By Hugo Barcia

New Delhi, Dec 14 (EFE).- The scarcity of specific products and skills, the lack of specialized knowledge and a highly protectionist market with severe import restrictions prevent Spanish cuisine from making its mark in India.

Paella, croquettes, Iberian ham or other typical dishes of Spanish cuisine barely find their space in the menus of the thousands of restaurants that claim to serve European food in India, which instead opt for other familiar flavors in the subcontinent, such as Italian or French.

“Spain has traditionally not looked so much toward India and has focused on other markets that are geographically and culturally closer, such as Europe and Latin America,” International Trade and Investment Advisor at the Spanish Embassy in India, Clara Antunez, told EFE.

This has caused “a certain shortage of Spanish products in India,” she underlined.

Although India’s interest in Spain has been increasing, the official said that Spain is quite far behind the rest of the European countries, whose cuisines have made significant inroads into the south Asian country.

Pasta and pizza have an evergreen presence in the menu of any food joint offering European food in India, although always with a spicy touch to suit Indian palates, while French cafes are common in the shopping centers and affluent markets of the country.

Another factor, according to Antunez, is the complexity of some Spanish dishes, which require “some skill in preparation and specific utensils that are not usually available in India,” compared to pizza or other popular options that are easier and faster to prepare.

This absence of one of the most recognized cuisines in the world in a market with 1.4 billion potential customers – and a burgeoning middle class – is often seen as an opportunity by several Spanish companies looking to fill the void.

However, they all point to a strong barrier that prevents them from doing so – a protectionist market with very high import tariffs.

Edible oil firm Acesur is one of the most recent companies to have explored this gateway during a business mission of the European Union (EU) to India, in which more than 50 European companies were present to look for partners in the country and to understand the complex process of entering the Indian market.

“From the exporter’s point of view, the problem is mainly the tariff issue. The product has a tariff of between 30 and 40 percent depending on the oil category and that weighs on us a lot when it comes to competing,” the firm’s commercial head for South Asia, Juan Gonzalez, told EFE.

Import rates are also high on other products typically used in Spanish cuisine, such as meat and fish (30 percent), rice (80 percent) and alcohol (150 percent).

Spain was the main exporter of olive oil to India in 2022, invoicing almost $55 million last year, according to data from the commercial office of the Embassy of Spain.

Other products exported from Spain to India in significant amounts last year were “preparations of vegetables, fruits and other plant products,” worth $10 million, and “beverages, alcoholic drinks and vinegar” which billed $7.6 million.

This restrictive policy is in sync with the country’s “Make in India” policy aimed at reversing its negative balance of payments by boosting local manufacturing and consumption.

To ease this tariff hurdle, the EU last year resumed negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with India, after talks were halted in 2013 after six unsuccessful years of negotiations.

“It’s a complex market. We have many trade, tariff and non-tariff barriers and that is why we are negotiating a free trade agreement,” EU Ambassador to India, Herve Delphin, told EFE.

“There are different levels of taxation between regions. Their goods cannot move freely from one region to another, from one state to another, because there are different forms of taxation. It is a level of complexity. I would say that regardless of what the free trade agreement we reach, it will need to address this variety of regulatory environments,” he added.

The success of these negotiations will depend on the arrival of more Spanish companies in India, with new products that hope to make inroads and coexist with the unique Indian gastronomical palate. EFE

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