How Indian agri exporters face some odd barriers

Jagdish Fofandi, a Gujarat-based seafood exporter, is in a quandary. Just ahead of the new fishing season, which begins next month, there’s been a rise in rejection of export consignments by Chinese authorities, who have cited the presence of Covid-19 residues in packing materials.

The processing unit of Fofandi’s family-owned Deepmala Foods, in the fishing harbour at Veraval in Junagadh district, has Covid-appropriate measures, including disinfecting the packaging materials. But these efforts were in vain: just recently, a consignment to China was rejected. He suspects that what was in fact detected was residual DNA from dead coronavirus, something no disinfectant spray could erase.

Fofandi, also the national president of Seafood Exporters Association of India, told ET that a majority of the 160 seafood exporters from Gujarat alone, who supply fish like ribbon, croaker and silver pomfret to the Chinese market, have suddenly discovered they were victims of a non-transparent barrier, with default in payment from Chinese importers rising to the tune of Rs 40 crore. Gujarat accounts for a quarter of India’s seafood export to China.

“The protocol followed by China is weird. Once they detect a dead material of Covid on the packet, they will suspend import from that particular company,” he said.

And it’s not restricted to the fish trade. A a slew of technical barriers — some traditional and others the making of the pandemic — have emerged as new stumbling blocks for Indian agricultural exporters. Whereas some of the protocols are opaque, others are transparent yet illogical, says an official from the department of commerce dealing with the subject.

Some of the barriers include the European Union’s persistent tightening of norms on maximum residue level (MRL) of chemical substances used in pesticide, the US’s recent move to force Indian suppliers to apply for organic certificates only from a US-accredited agency, and Mexico’s continuing suspension of import of dried chilies from India after an incident in which a Khapra beetle was intercepted back in 2017.

In fact, all US-bound consignments carrying chilli, its powder and seeds, are mandatorily tested on food safety parameters in India, but the US does not recognise a certificate from the Spices Board of India’s laboratory. “We are requesting the US authorities to accept the test reports for clearance of the spice consignments, which are sampled, tested and certified on a mandatory basis by the Indian Government laboratory,” the board’s chairman and secretary D Sathiyan said.

Interestingly, China, which has been discouraging marine products from India citing presence of coronavirus fragments and is also proposing a new health certificate format for shrimp import, hasn’t felt the same concern about Indian spices.

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