P.S. Suryanarayana

Ban is in country’s interest: Kamal Nath

“Rice issue should be seen in the light of India’s needs”

Vietnam also has imposed a rice export ban

SINGAPORE: It is in “India’s interest” that the current ban on the export of certain varieties of rice has been imposed, according to Union Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath.

Mr. Nath, in transit here on his way back home from Bali, where he represented India at a ‘retreat’ hosted by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said on Sunday that the rice issue should be seen in the light of the needs of “our own large population.”

Asked whether he would keep open the option of lifting the curbs on exports of non-basmati varieties, given the impression in some East Asian circles that India could have perhaps avoided the ban, Mr. Nath said he was “not” suggesting that it was being reviewed now. India would have to reckon with the rice price situation at home and abroad in this context, he pointed out, also citing the parallel case of Vietnam, an ASEAN member, which, too, had resorted to a rice export ban.

Thailand, another ASEAN member, is the world’s largest exporter of rice, followed by India and Vietnam.

And, in 2007, India exported nearly one million tonnes more rice than in the previous year.

Free trade pact

The regional rice crisis itself was not discussed at the latest ASEAN-India ‘retreat,’ which was devoted entirely to the finalisation of their much-negotiated free trade agreement.

Union Commerce Secretary G.K. Pillai and India’s Ambassador to Indonesia Biren Nanda assisted Mr. Nath. More official-level follow-up talks are now likely between the two sides.

To a question on the prospects of this economic pact, Mr. Nath said the parleys were now down to some “minor issues,” which centred on the “symmetry” of likely gains for the 10 ASEAN member-states in their separate streams of trade with India.

To address the global food crisis, Mr. Nath had earlier extended “India’s support for the leadership of Thailand” in organising a “rice summit” of all stakeholders, as different from an exporters’ cartel.

In an unrelated development, Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej later announced plans to form an organisation of rice-exporting countries, and he mentioned a few ASEAN states as the likely members but not India. The move has not found much favour within the ASEAN circles.