|Habibi, an Afghan worker in London, sells the last Alphonsos before the Thursday deadline
New Delhi, April 28: The European Union has temporarily banned the import of India’s most expensive mango, the Alphonso, as well as the eggplant and bitter and snake gourds from May 1 after finding cargoes infested with fruit flies.
The ban applies till the end of this year and covers just about five per cent of India’s $600 million worth of agricultural exports to the European Union (EU) by value.
But the ban may be extended to other plant material if the 28-nation grouping is not satisfied with India’s efforts to meet EU food standards. If that happens, it could spark a trade war.
For now, India’s commerce ministry has ordered all perishables — fruits, vegetables and flowers — routed through recognised packaging houses under the watchful eyes of plant protection inspectors to ensure they meet global phyto-sanitary criteria.
The EU has often in the past been at loggerheads with New Delhi over phyto-sanitary (control of plant diseases) standards, and has repeatedly banned or stalled farm produce imports from India. New Delhi has described these moves as non-tariff barriers that must be resolved if the EU wants a free trade deal with India.
The EU has long been complaining that the high state-level duties in India on its wines and spirits are acting as trade barriers. Some analysts view the frequent use of the grouping’s phyto-sanitary standards against Indian exports as an attempt to browbeat the Indians into relaxing trade rules for EU exports.
India will be inviting EU inspectors to come and assess the improvements it has introduced and decide whether Indian exports are meeting global quality-check standards.
India’s Agriculture and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority has in a notification specified that the country’s packaging houses must follow all the export procedures for fruits and vegetables laid down by the EU. They must also maintain records of goods that come in or are shipped out.
The EU has cited “presence of pests” in Indian consignments of fruits and vegetables for the temporary ban. It says it fears that the potential “introduction of new pests into the EU region” could threaten long-term agricultural production in the region.
The ban has attracted strong reactions from traders specialising in Indian food in Britain and other European countries. These firms had placed large orders directly with Indian farmers for the import of mangos and other perishables.
Indian exporters too will be hit hard. Harkirat Singh, a Delhi-based exporter in farm produce, said: “The losses will be in several millions of euros for traders here.”