Basmati exports to West Asia to be hit on tighter pesticide norms

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The trade body is apprehensive of the future of Basmati rice exports upon which the livelihood of hundreds of exporters and thousands of farmers across the seven Basmati growing states hinge.

Basmati rice exports are expected to take a hit owing to the recent move by some West Asian nations to tighten pesticide residue norms without prior intimation, said concerned exporters. The All-India Rice Exporters’ Association (AIREA) has raised the issue with the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, stating that Oman, Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are among the nations that have adopted pesticide residue norms at par with those in the European Union (EU).

Basmati rice exports are facing challenges in various destinations because of the varying degrees of pesticide residues adopted by the EU and other countries, AIREA president Nathi Ram Gupta said.

The country’s exports of premium quality rice to the EU have been on the decline since 2017, when the region tightened pesticide residue norms for rice. The industry has expressed concern that with similar stringent norms being adopted by West Asia, the country’s Rs 30,000-crore Basmati rice exports business could take a big hit. West Asia accounts for 80% of the business.

“Countries in the Middle East (West Asia) are now adopting EU-at-par norms of pesticide residues and our Basmati rice is facing the brunt of such norms,” Vinod Kaul, executive director, AIREA, said, adding that the industry had been struggling with adhering to the norms adopted by countries like Oman, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia. “While the EU has a harmonised system of pesticide residues, Middle Eastern countries do not have a uniform system. They have a mix of GSO standards, Codex standards and EU standards, which has been causing serious complications in adherence to such varying norms,” he said.

The industry has demanded that pesticide manufacturing companies willing to register their molecule in India should first be asked to produce documentary evidence of the registration of such molecules in the EU and the US, as major pesticide manufacturers are from these two regions.

According to AIREA, India exported Rs 29,859 crore worth of Basmati rice in 2020-21, of which the western Asian nations accounted for Rs 22,849 crore. Basmati exports to the EU have declined from 397,000 tonne in 2017-18 to 241,000 tonne in 2019-20.

In a letter to the ministry, the association pointed out that the Dubai Municipality had initiated testing of Basmati rice picked up from store shelves and had started notifying the Indian exporters concerned about rejections on the grounds of detection of higher than permissible levels of Thiomethoxam and Tricyclazole. Over the past one year, Oman, Lebanon and Egypt also started testing without intimating about the precise requirements, the association revealed.

The trade body is apprehensive of the future of Basmati rice exports upon which the livelihood of hundreds of exporters and thousands of farmers across the seven Basmati growing states hinge.

“Our association has for the past two years been raising the matter with Government of India in the Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Agriculture and APEDA,” Kaul said.

In the current financial year, these issues will dent the export statistics severely, which will hurt farmers and processors. The extension machinery in India needs to be sensitised about the situation, about the requirement of pesticide residue norms being adopted by different countries so that this knowledge can be imparted to farmers during cultivation, Kaul said.

“The MRLS (minimum residue levels) in the EU are placed at a default level of 0.01 ppm for such chemicals which are not registered for use in the EU. Likewise, in India there are some pesticides for which no MRLs are set up and hence such chemicals should be immediately banned,” he said.

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