Sour turn in India-EU trade

The ban imposed by the European Union on the import of Alphonso mangoes and four varieties of vegetables from India until December 2015 after some consignments were found infested with “non-European fruit flies” has naturally upset India. As the biggest producer of the golden fruit, India sends about 70,000 tonnes of mangoes abroad every year. Yet, merely insisting that the 28-member bloc’s action is “unilateral… without any meaningful official consultation,” as Commerce Minister Anand Sharma has done, will not do. The EU had notified India in March of its concerns. Whether the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, which is tasked with ensuring that items of export are compliant in terms of sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards as set down by importing countries, was able to fully address them effectively, remains unclear. It is also to be noted that scores of consignments of mangoes and vegetables shipped in 2013 had been found to be contaminated. Periodic problems that come up with respect to shrimp exports over contamination concerns, are relevant here. India certainly needs to put in place fool-proof mechanisms for the examination and certification of export commodities to remove such taints once and for all. Necessary correctives need to be worked out with the involvement of technical and scientific bodies in order that in the lucrative but competitive export markets the country would establish its reputation as a reliable partner meeting health and phyto-sanitary standards.

On its part, the EU should ensure that any cause for a perception of its decision being an unfair one which smacks of a punitive approach and that would potentially jeopardise India-EU trade, is avoided. As the Minister has pointed out, the ongoing negotiations for a broad-based India-EU trade and investment agreement is based on the premise of trust and understanding to put in place a more liberal trade regime. Brussels should note Indian domestic concerns and invoke the necessary correctives on the basis of an appropriate assessment of risks. If it is indeed possible that sections of the EU bureaucracy see here a leveraging factor in the context of talks on a Free Trade Agreement, as also other bilateral issues, that will amount to unfairness. Although Europe is not a major market for Indian mangoes — it accounts for 16 million tonnes annually — any ban typically pulls down prices. About 80 per cent of the exports from India go to West Asia. What India should do is to strengthen its bargaining position by raising export standards and leave no quarter to be found remiss. The entire ecosystem for exports, involving farmers, packers and exporters of agri-commodities, should be geared to meet the quality and safety requirements of countries across the world.