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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World leaders return to UN and face many escalating crises

World leaders return to UN and face many escalating crises
Updated 14 sec ago

World leaders return to UN and face many escalating crises

World leaders return to UN and face many escalating crises

NEW YORK: In person and on screen, world leaders return to the United Nations foremost gathering for the first time in two years on Tuesday with a formidable, diplomacy-packed agenda of escalating crises to tackle, including the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic and a relentlessly warming planet.
Other pressing issues include rising US-China tensions, Afghanistan’s unsettled future under its new Taliban rulers and ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region.
Last year, no leaders came to the UN because the coronavirus was sweeping the globe, so all addresses were pre-recorded. This year, the General Assembly offered leaders a choice — come to New York or remain online. More than 100 decided to appear in person in the General Assembly hall.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres, who opens the weeklong event, “will pull no punches in expressing his concern about the state of the world, and he will lay out a vision to bridge the numerous divides that stand in the way of progress,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Guterres has already demonstrated that in pointed pre-meeting remarks about the virus and climate change.
By tradition, the first country to speak is Brazil, whose president, Jair Bolsonaro, isn’t vaccinated. He reiterated last Thursday that he doesn’t plan to get the shot any time soon, justifying his refusal by saying he had COVID-19 and therefore has a high level of antibodies.
A key issue ahead of the meetings has been COVID-19 entry requirements for leaders to the United States — and to the UN headquarters itself. The US requires a vaccination or a recent COVID-19 test, and the UN will operate on an honor system whereby anyone entering the complex attests that they do not have symptoms and have not tested positive in the last 10 days.
The three most closely watched speakers on Tuesday morning are expected to be US President Joe Biden, appearing at the UN for the first time since his defeat of Donald Trump in the US election last November; Chinese President Xi Jinping, who in a surprise move will deliver a video address; and Iran’s recently elected hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi.
Ahead of the opening of the General Assembly’s annual General Debate, Guterres issued a dire warning that the world could be plunged into a new and probably more dangerous Cold War unless the United States and China repair their “totally dysfunctional” relationship.
The UN chief said in an interview this weekend with The Associated Press that Washington and Beijing should be cooperating on the climate crisis and negotiating on trade and technology, but “unfortunately, today we only have confrontation” including over human rights and geostrategic problems mainly in the South China Sea.
Speaking last week about Biden’s speech, Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, said “the really significant question is exactly how he frames relations with China.” He predicted that Biden “won’t be as forthright in criticism of China as Trump was, especially in 2019 and 2020,” but rather will “try and cast China as a country that is challenging the rules-based world order and a country that should not be trusted with leadership of the international system.”
On the latest speakers list released earlier this month, China’s speech was supposed to be delivered on Friday by a deputy prime minister. But the UN confirmed Monday that Xi will give the country’s video address instead. His speech and any comments about the US rivalry are certain to be closely watched and analyzed: China’s presence in the world, and its relationship with the United States, affect most every corner of the planet.
Other leaders scheduled to speak in person during the meeting, which ends Sept. 27, include King Abdullah II of Jordan, the president of Venezuela, and the prime ministers of Japan, India and the United Kingdom along with Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Leaders delivering prerecorded statements this year include the presidents of Egypt, Indonesia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. French President Emmanuel Macron was supposed to deliver a pre-recorded statement on Tuesday, but the government said Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will now deliver the country’s address virtually on the final day.
France and China have reacted angrily to the surprise announcement by Biden, alongside the leaders of Australia and Britain, of a deal to provide Australia with at least eight nuclear-powered submarines. Australia had signed a contract worth at least $66 billion for a dozen French conventional diesel-electric submarines and their construction was already under way.
Le Drian told a news conference Monday that there is a “crisis of trust” between the United States and its oldest ally, France, as well as Europe, which has been excluded from the new US-UK-Australia alliance focused on the Indo-Pacific and aimed at confrontation with China. He said Europeans “should not be left behind,” and need to define their own strategic interests.


LIVE: FII Institute Health is Wealth conference

LIVE: FII Institute Health is Wealth conference
Updated 41 min 18 sec ago

LIVE: FII Institute Health is Wealth conference

LIVE: FII Institute Health is Wealth conference
  • The roundtable is taking place in conjunction with the ongoing UN General Assembly

RIYADH: World leaders are gathering to discuss how the world can prepare for future pandemics and drive solutions to global issues at a roundtable hosted by Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative Institute on Tuesday.

The “Health is Wealth” roundtable is also being attended by UN ambassadors, corporate leaders and government officials, and will see the launch of the Saudi-based institute launch its Global Infectious Diseases Index.

The FII Institute’s roundtable aims to “address issues and drive tangible solutions” to challenges such as disparate investment in health to inequalities in access, the organization said.

Speakers at Tuesday’s roundtable will include FII Institute Chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan, as well as World Trade Organization Director-General Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, UN Refugee Agency Goodwill Ambassador Nomzamo Mbatha, and US TB Alliance President and CEO Dr. Mel Spigelman.

The roundtable is taking place in conjunction with the ongoing UN General Assembly.


Trial of first COVID-19 variant-proof jab begins in UK

Trial of first COVID-19 variant-proof jab begins in UK
Updated 21 September 2021

Trial of first COVID-19 variant-proof jab begins in UK

Trial of first COVID-19 variant-proof jab begins in UK
  • US firm Grimstone hopes new mRNA vaccine will eliminate need for regular updates
  • Study of people over 60 held in conjunction with Manchester University, local NHS trust

LONDON: A new coronavirus booster vaccine, the first said to be variant-proof, is being trialed in Manchester in the UK.

The mRNA vaccine, known as GRT-R910, could eliminate the need for COVID-19 vaccines to be constantly updated to counter emerging strains of the disease. 

The first subjects of the booster trial — retired couple Andrew Clarke, 63, and his wife Helen, a 64-year-old former nurse — received their jabs on Monday.

Another 20 volunteers, all over the age of 60 — constituting the most vulnerable cohort of the population — will also receive the jab. Further trials in other vulnerable demographics are also planned.

Scientists at US pharmaceutical company Gritstone, working with the University of Manchester and Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, will study dosages, tolerability, immunogenicity and side effects over four months following initial administration. They hope for results by early 2022.

“We now know the immune response to first generation vaccines can wane, particularly in older people,” said Prof. Andrew Ustianowski, the study’s chief investigator at the University of Manchester.

“Coupled with the prevalence of emerging variants, there is a clear need for continued vigilance to keep COVID-19 at bay,” he added.

“We think GRT-R910 as a booster vaccination will elicit strong, durable and broad immune responses, which are likely to be critical in maintaining protection of this vulnerable elderly population who are particularly at risk of hospitalization and death.”


Melbourne police fire pepper balls, pellets to break up COVID-19 protest

Melbourne police fire pepper balls, pellets to break up COVID-19 protest
Updated 21 September 2021

Melbourne police fire pepper balls, pellets to break up COVID-19 protest

Melbourne police fire pepper balls, pellets to break up COVID-19 protest
  • During eight hours of downtown protests, demonstrators threw rocks, bottles and flares at police
  • The tough curbs have triggered anti-lockdown rallies with police arresting hundreds

SYDNEY/MELBOURNE: Police in Melbourne fired pepper balls and rubber pellets on Tuesday to disperse about 2,000 protesters who defied stay-at- home orders to damage property, block a busy freeway and injure three officers, leading to more than 60 arrests.
It was the second day of demonstrations in the locked-down Australian city after authorities shut construction sites for two weeks, saying workers’ frequent movement was spreading the coronavirus.
During eight hours of downtown protests, demonstrators threw rocks, bottles and flares at police, as television and social media showed video of marchers chanting and attacking police cars, surrounded by mounted police and officers in riot gear.
“This was a very, very large and very, very angry group,” Shane Patton, police commissioner in the southeastern state of Victoria, told reporters, adding that the protest breached COVID-19 lockdown rules.
“And it was a challenging and confronting environment,” he added, urging people to stay away on Wednesday.
Protesters included not only construction workers but opponents of mandatory vaccinations and Victoria’s extended lockdown, who cursed the jab, state premier Dan Andrews and the workers’ union leader, who had backed vaccination for members.
“Acts of violence and disruption won’t result in one less case of COVID — in fact it only helps the virus to spread,” Andrews said in a statement.
The halt in building activities followed a protest against a vaccine mandate that turned violent on Monday. The state requires all construction workers to receive at least one vaccine dose by the end of this week.
“The public health team was left with no choice but to hit the pause button and continue to work with the sector over the next two weeks to improve compliance,” state Health Minister Martin Foley told reporters.
The forced closures of building sites will worsen Australia’s economic woes, with some economists forecasting the extended lockdowns could push the A$2 trillion ($1.45 trillion) economy into a second recession in as many years.
Australia has locked down its largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne, as well as the capital, Canberra, to rein in an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.
But the tough curbs have triggered anti-lockdown rallies with police arresting hundreds in both cities over the weekend.
Tuesday’s 603 new infections in Victoria were the highest daily figure this year, with one new death was recorded.
Authorities have begun to ease some strictures on outdoor gatherings and exercise in Sydney and Melbourne as vaccination rates rise, with more freedom promised once 70 percent to 80 percent of adults in the population have received both vaccine doses.
Until now, 53 percent have been fully vaccinated in the state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, while in Victoria the coverage is 44 percent.
New South Wales reported 1,022 new infections, the majority in Sydney, its capital, up from Monday’s figure of 935, and 10 deaths.
Even with the Delta outbreaks, Australia’s COVID-19 infections are lower than many comparable nations, with 88,700 cases and 1,178 deaths.


Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team

Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team
Updated 21 September 2021

Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team

Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team
  • Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says that women might be added later

KABUL: The Taliban expanded their interim Cabinet by naming deputy ministers Tuesday, but failed to appoint any women, doubling down on a hard-line course despite the international outcry that followed their initial presentation of an all-male Cabinet lineup earlier this month.

The international community has warned that it will judge the Taliban by their actions, and that recognition of a Taliban-led government would be linked to the treatment of women and minorities. In their previous rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the Taliban had barred girls and women from schools, work and public life.

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid defended the latest additions to the Cabinet at a news conference Tuesday, saying it included members of ethnic minorities, such as the Hazaras, and that women might be added later.

Mujahid bristled at international conditions for recognition, saying there was no reason for withholding it. “It is the responsibility of the United Nations to recognize our government (and) for other countries, including European, Asian and Islamic countries, to have diplomatic relations with us,” he said.

He also said that the Taliban has funds to pay government salaries ‘but needs time.’

The Taliban have framed their current Cabinet as an interim government, suggesting that change was still possible, but they have not said if there would ever be elections.

Mujahid was also asked about the recent restrictions imposed on girls and women, including a decision not to allow girls in grades six to 12 to return to classrooms for the time being.

Mujahid suggested this was a temporary decision, and that “soon it will be announced when they can go to school.” He said plans were being made to allow for their return, but did not elaborate.

Boys in grades six to 12 resumed their studies over the weekend.