On the boil: Pakistan, India tussle over basmati rice origin

On the boil: Pakistan, India tussle over basmati rice origin
India’s application for GI at the EU for its basmati rice and grain faces rough sailing after Pakistan said it would challenge the move.
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Updated 07 October 2020

On the boil: Pakistan, India tussle over basmati rice origin

On the boil: Pakistan, India tussle over basmati rice origin
  • Pakistan produces a wide range of basmati rice and believes it has a right to a GI tag

KARACHI: Pakistan on Monday said it would give a “befitting reply” to, and oppose, India’s move to geographically label basmati rice and grain as its own in the EU.

Developing countries are increasingly using geographic labeling to boost the value of products ranging from carpets to rice, raising rural incomes and protecting farmland. 

A geographical indication (GI) is a sign used on products that have a specific geographic origin, which gives them certain qualities or a reputation, such as Champagne and Darjeeling tea.

India applied for a GI for basmati rice last month. In a meeting chaired by commerce adviser Abdul Razak Dawood on Monday, Pakistan announced it would oppose India’s application.

“Abdul Razak Dawood categorically stated that Pakistan will vehemently oppose India’s application in the EU and restrain India from obtaining exclusive GI tag of basmati rice,” a statement issued by the ministry said.

Pakistan produces a wide range of basmati rice and believes it has a right to a GI tag. 

It now has under three months to respond to the Indian application and file a counter application with the EU. The country’s rice exporters face the risk of losing a substantial European market if India succeeds in the geographical labeling, exporters said.

“The GI tag going to India means Pakistan will be losing the European market, and that will not be limited to EU alone; we will not be able to export basmati rice to other countries as well,” Rafique Suleman, convener of the Central Committee of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and industry on Rice, told Arab News.

“Basmati rice is our heritage. The GI tag is an exclusive right to sell goods in the registered markets.”

Pakistan exported $2.17 billion worth of rice during the last fiscal year, of which the share of basmati rice was $790.8 million, 25 percent higher than the previous year, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

According to the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP), “Pakistan is recognized around the world for producing and exporting high quality and aromatic basmati rice.”

“REAP is the second largest export trade body of Pakistan after the textile sector, and contributes more than $2 billion per annum,” REAP said.

According to the Indian application published in the EU’s official journal on Sept. 11, 2020, basmati is a special long grain aromatic rice grown and produced in a particular geographical region of the Indian sub-continent, below the foothills of the Himalayas.

India’s move is a significant one, especially after the EU revised its rules for fungicides in crops, including rice, in 2018.

According to media reports, it caused New Delhi to lose a significant share in the EU market after tests showed that the basmati produced in India had higher levels of tricylazole, a pesticide that is sprayed on the crop to overcome fungal pests, than those permitted by the EU. 

Pakistan, however, had a lot to gain and nearly doubled its exports of the product from 2017 to 2018.

The name basmati is derived from two Sanskrit word roots, “vas” meaning “aroma” and “mati” meaning “ingrained from the origin,” the Indian application says, adding that the first recorded reference to basmati rice is found in the Punjabi poem “Heer Ranjha” by the poet Varis Shah in 1766.

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Farmers stood on tractors and waved colorful flags while their leaders chanted slogans via a loudspeaker atop a makeshift stage.
Thousands of them have hunkered down outside New Delhi’s borders since late November to voice their anger against three laws passed by Parliament last year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government says the laws are necessary to modernize agriculture but farmers say they will leave them poorer and at the mercy of big corporations.
Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or Joint Farmers’ Front, said the blockade would last five hours. “It is not our hobby to block roads, but the government is not listening to us. What can we do?” said Satnam Singh, a member of the group.
The farmers have remained undeterred even after violence erupted on Jan. 26 during clashes with police that left one protester dead and hundreds injured. But they could soon run into problems.
For 100 days, Karnal Singh, has lived inside the back of a trailer along a vast stretch of arterial highway that connects India’s north with New Delhi. He camped outside the capital when it was under the grip of winter and smog. Now, the city is bracing for scorching summer temperatures that can hit 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).
But Singh, like many other farmers, is unfazed and plans to stay until the laws are completely withdrawn.
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The mood at the Singhu border, one of the protest sites, was boisterous on Friday, with many farmers settling into their surroundings for the long haul.
Huge soup kitchens that feed thousands daily were still running. Farmers thronged both sides of the highway and hundreds of trucks have been turned into rooms, fitted with water coolers in preparation for the summer. Electric fans and air conditioners are also being installed in some trailers.
Farmers say the protests will spread across the country soon. The government, however, is hoping many of them will return home once India’s major harvesting season begins at the end of the month.
Karanbir Singh dismissed such concerns. He said their community, including friends and neighbors back in the villages, would tend to farms while he and others carried on with the protests.
“We’ll help each other to make sure no farm goes unharvested,” Singh said.
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The Southeast Asian country has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with daily protests and strikes that have choked business and paralyzed administration.
More than 50 protesters have been killed according to the United Nations — at least 38 on Wednesday alone. Protesters demand the release of Suu Kyi and the respect of November’s election, which her party won in landslide, but which the army rejected.
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“Political hope has begun to shine. We can’t lose the momentum of the revolution,” one protest leader, Ei Thinzar Maung, wrote on Facebook. “Those who dare to fight will have victory. We deserve victory.”
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“Use of violence against the people of Myanmar must stop now,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a tweet, calling for the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees and for the restoration of democracy.
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The army took power over allegations of fraud in last year’s election which had been dismissed by the electoral commission. It has promised to hold a new election at an unspecified date.
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During the rally — the strongest indication yet of support for the anti-coup movement from one of the country’s myriad ethnic armed groups — KNU troops flashed the three-finger salute popularized by protesters and handed out water bottles.


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