March 29: If Kashmir divides India and Pakistan, biryani could unite the neighbours.
The two countries have decided to seek a joint patent on basmati rice, which goes into biryani and pulao.
The long-grained, aromatic rice ' basmati means the queen of fragrance ' with a nut-like flavour is the costliest in the world. The best quality grows in the fertile soils and warm climate of Punjab ' on both sides of the border ' as well as in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh in India.
But a US-based company RiceTec patented it as Texmati in 2001, sparking a huge uproar which finally led to cancellation of the patent. Ever since, India and Pakistan have been planning a geographical patent, similar to that held by Scotland for Scotch whisky and France for champagne.
Today, the two countries decided to set up a working group to discuss the issue. No deadline has been set, however, for a possible pact.
At the end of three-day talks at the commerce secretary level in Islamabad, officials did not say how the two countries would go about applying for the patent.
India has already brought in geographical indicators for Darjeeling tea and is likely to work along similar lines with Pakistan ' so long its fiercest competitor for the basmati market worldwide.
If competition prevented a common strategy so far, the growing influence of the American brand of basmati in the West ' multinationals have been trying to patent the strain or basmati clones with names like Texmati and Kasmati ' seems to have finally brought them together to protect their claim on the rice without which no feast in the subcontinent is complete.
Other than basmati, the two sides also agreed on strengthening road and rail transport services and speeding up opening of bank branches in each other’s countries.
Pakistan said it would consider enlarging the positive list of import items from India to over 1,050 from the present 773, a joint statement said.
“Both sides welcomed the ratification of Safta agreement by all Saarc member countries and expressed the confidence that it would enhance regional trade,” it added.
Indian officials consider this as significant because it indicates Pakistan’s intentions to apply Safta to India despite public postures to the contrary by its commerce minister Humayun Akthar Khan, linking trade to the resolution of political disputes, including Kashmir.
Commerce secretary S.N. Menon, who led a 15-member team to the talks, said detailed discussions on Safta would be held at the Saarc conference in Dhaka next month.