Basmati Growers Association (BGA) has strongly supported the idea of ending the mandatory condition of a rice exporter’s being member of the Rice Exporters Association (REAP) and claimed it will result in increasing exports and the number of exporters.
The mandatory membership condition must go and the shackles should be broken for good to free rice exports from unnecessary restrictions and hurdles. The stagnation in rice exports, especially the reduction in Basmati exports from 1.2 million tons a few years ago to 0.7MTs in the last fiscal year is a clear indication of loss of focus.
The Indians increased Basmati exports from 1.2MTs to 3.2MTs in the same period, said BGA President Chaudhry Hamid Malhi while talking to Business Recorder on Monday. He said it is so unfortunate that 75 per cent of our Basmati exports land in the Middle East and only 14,000 tons are exported to the USA. A meager 44,000 tons are exported to the EU, he remarked.
The worry about the sui generis law is superficial. The current litigation and opposition to the Basmati growers by the rice exporter association, to register Basmati as a Geographical Indication in Pakistan has put the country on the back foot as the registration could not be completed while a similar application was tendered by the exporters themselves under the same law, self contradicting the sui generis clamor they are fond of.
The present law is sufficient for GI protection and confirms to WTO requirements. Why the exporters did not oppose the Indian application to register Basmati as a GI in India if they were so concerned about loosing the edge in Basmati exports, if the Indians registered it first? Jointly with India or without it we can challenge any member country which infringes on our right of Basmati, we just need the nod of the Ministry of Commerce to proceed further.
There is nothing to be afraid of, WTO has enabled very small countries to challenge and win cases in WTO against the USA, Malhi claimed. He disclosed that there was a marked difference in the definition of Basmati by Pakistan and that of India. We do not grow Indian varieties and nor would allow Indians to grow our varieties. If the exporters are in to growing or marketing any of the Indian varieties they are advised to refrain from such acts, BGA Chief warned.
While pretending to protect the stakeholder chain they (exporters) intend to put the highly taxed production of rice in the country up against the subsidised Indian rice production under their free trade policy. This is bound to ruin rice production in the country. They thrive on a depressed domestic market and shy away from branding and exploring new markets.