The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Neighbours set up supari links

New Delhi, July 9: The mafia may have given supari — an upfront payment to a contract killer to bump off a cross-town rival — a bad name, but supari also makes eminent business sense.

Campco (Central Arecanut and Cocoa Marketing and Processing Cooperative) has just entered an “in-principle agreement” with Agar International, a Karachi-based company, to export 1,000 containers of betel nuts this year. It is one of many business initiatives that has emerged from the conclave of businessmen now taking place in the capital.

“We have an in-principle agreement to export betel nut to a Karachi-based company with whom we have worked earlier,” Campco managing director R. Sitaram said on the sidelines the third meeting of the India-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry hosted by Ficci.

In 2001, Campco had exported around 10 containers of red and white betel nuts to Agar International. “However, the Kargil war destroyed everything as relations between the two neighbour countries soured,” said Sitaram.

Even as businessmen of the two countries hunker down to the task of improving bilateral trade relations, a reef of regulatory issues threaten to scupper the businessmen’s initiative.

According to Sitaram, the agriculture department of the government of Pakistan (GOP) has banned the import of betel nuts from Malaysia and Indonesia on the ground that “they are not fit for human consumption”.

He said: “We don’t want this to happen to us. So, we will approach the GOP through the right channels by going through Ficci and the Government of India next week to explain that our betel nut is of better quality.”

Over 1,000 containers filled with betel nuts are reportedly lying in the ports of Pakistan awaiting clearance. “Unlike betel nuts, which are not cultivated and processed properly by Indonesia and Malaysia, the taste and quality of our betel nut differ since we know the right way of growing and processing it,” Sitaram said.

Campco, the multi-state cooperative institution, has equity investment from the governments of Kerala and Karnataka and has a turnover of Rs 400 crore.

The company, which had once threatened to challenge Cadbury’s dominance over the market for chocolates long before Nestle arrived, has a chocolate manufacturing factory at Puttur near Mangalore. Cocoa is grown as an inter-crop in betel nut gardens.

Pakistan’s yearly requirement of betel nuts is estimated at 1 lakh metric tonnes, “which India can fulfil at reasonable rates”, said Sitaram. Campco’s share in the betel nut trade in India is about 20 per cent. India grows more than 75 per cent of the world’s production of betel nuts.

The entire production estimated to be around 4 lakh metric tonnes is grown within an area of 3.20 lakh hectares, and is consumed by Indians alone. Betel nut is mainly grown in Assam, Karnataka and Kerala.

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