Himalayan News Service

New Delhi, March 13:

A common concern to promote, protect and get the best price

for the premium long-grained aromatic basmati rice has brought together Indian and Pakistani exporters.

India and Pakistan are currently facing a common problem of convincing the European Union (EU) to continue the preferential market access to their high-priced basmati, unique to the Indian subcontinent.

The EU is yet to notify the decision to eliminate some of the basmati varieties currently enjoying the zero duty access on the grounds that they are not traditional varieties. A decision is expected to be taken in London on March 17 when the Grain and Feed Traders Association of the EU holds its meeting with Indian and Pakistani representatives.

Ahead of the meet, Indian and Pakistan basmati exporters associations yesterday signed here a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to jointly work to convince the EU against any move that would harm their interest in one of the biggest markets for basmati.

Under the umbrella of the state-owned Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), the All India Rice Exporters Association agreed with its Pakistani counterpart to set up a committee that would meet at least thrice a year to chalk out a common strategy to protect the basmati interests of both countries.

"We agree that there has been a communication gap between us for the last couple of decades," Abdul Rahim Janoo, leader of the 26-member Pakistani business delegation, said.

The delegation includes eight of 10 top basmati and non-basmati rice exporters from Pakistan.

Janoo invited the Indian counterparts to come in large numbers to attend an India-Pakistan basmati conference to be hosted by his association during the harvest season in September or October.

"This is the time to act fast and develop a common strategy so that both the countries get the right price for the basmati. The MoU would help in greater interaction between the two countries," said Janoo.

According to Janoo, the visit of the delegation had been organised at the behest of Pakistan prime minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, himself a rice grower, to promote cooperation and enable Pakistan to source rice processing machinery from India.

Under the agreement, both sides would take steps to protect basmati as being native to the Indian subcontinent, enhance consumer information campaigns, and share research and information on pre- and post-harvest management, said Brij Mohan Bhatia, president of the All India Rice Exporters Association.

"While Pakistan is our competitor in the global market, there are many common problems which we can work to resolve together," said Bhatia, "Though our marketing strategy will be different, on price and quality complaints we will work together to address them. We can develop ways for having in place inspection systems so that no complaints are received on quality count."India exports around 800,000 tonnes of basmati annually, which is around 100,000 tonnes more than Pakistan.

"We are expecting a better crop this year and may exceed 800,000 tonnes exports," said Bhatia.