Exporters seek government intervention as Saudi Arabia halts basmati imports

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Exporters seek government intervention as Saudi Arabia halts basmati imports Basmati rice exporters have sought government intervention to help resume exports to Saudi Arabia, the second largest importer of basmati, which halted rice imports from India since June for non-compliance with its new stringent maximum level of pesticide residues in food items. 

Indian authorities are set to initiate dialogue with the Gulf kingdom to seek mellowing of maximum residue level (MRL) norms that are likely to hit exports of mainly rice, buffalo meat and few other food items. Indian authorities are set to initiate dialogue with the Gulf kingdom to seek mellowing of maximum residue level (MRL) norms that are likely to hit exports of mainly rice, buffalo meat and few other food items. 

“The matter is being taken up with Saudi Arabia as the new MRL are not based on scientific facts and are too stringent to be fulfilled,” a senior official from Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) said. Saudi Arabia’s new MRL norms are not India-specific, though. Rice export to the country has halted since June after a consignment was tested positively for not fulfilling the new criteria for residue detection. Saudi Arabia buys 7-8 lakh tonnes of rice, primarily basmati, from India. 

Exporters warn that the development will significantly shrink India’s share in the global rice market. India is the largest exporter of basmati, shipping 4 million tonnes of basmati in 2017-18. “It is not possible to fulfil the (Saudi Arabia’s) guidelines, and will cause serious blow to international rice trade,” said Tejinder Singh, general manager at Supple Tek Industries, an Amritsar-based manufacturer and exporter of basmati rice. The MRL norms are tough for even organic rice from the country, Singh told ET. Exporters maintain that Saudi Arabia has adopted the MRL norms of European Union that is strict and do not confirm to medical facts or toxicology records. Rice exports to European Union faced similar hurdles earlier this year and currently only limited quantities of organic rice are being exported to European countries. 

Under Saudi Arabia’s new norms, level of fungicide tricycazole has been set at 0.01 mg per kg, down from earlier limit of 1.0 mg per kg. Under the new procedure for import, Saudi Arabia is warranting certification about compliance of MRL guidelines on import shipments. 

Vijay Sethia, president of All India Rice Exporters Association (AIREA), said that even in Japan — one of the healthiest countries in the world where rice is a regular diet — “the residue norms are not so stringent”. 

He said the matter has been raised with the Union commerce ministry and APEDA. Basmati growers in India have been sensitised to curative farm practises in recent years to tackle stricter international pesticide residue norms. Farmers in basmati growing states are being imparted training on scientific use of pesticides, dosage, time of application, etc. through an exhaustive campaign jointly run by AIREA, APEDA and various federal agricultural institutes. 

Sethia of AIREA said the association has sought a process where pesticides are allotted based on land ownership to stop over use of chemicals. “We have suggested that chemicals usage should be allowed to skilled manpower and not to those who cannot even read prescriptions, and it leads to overuse,” he told ET. 

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By BOA Bureau