The president of India’s largest trade promotion body has expressed his “surprise” at the “unilateral” decision by the EU to ban the import of a number of agricultural products from India.
The European Commission on Monday placed what it called a “temporary” ban on Alphonso Mangoes, Bitter Gourd and Snake Gourd among other items after quarantine threats were detected in several consignments in 2013.
Britain’s agriculture agency Defra (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) pledged its support to the ban on the imports, saying pests found in 207 consignments posed a threat to British crops such as tobacco, tomato and cucumber.
However, Mr Siddarth Birla, President of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), said the ban would have an impact on India’s burgeoning trade ties with the UK and European Union.
“This is an unfortunate development. The way it has happened leaves open the question if this is the only measure or some more could be expected”, Mr Birla said.
“We understand that this matter was under discussion for some time and it is therefore surprising that the EU side has taken such a decision unilaterally. This defies the spirit of cooperation that one would expect. This move would have a bearing on the farmers and exporters from India as well as impact trade and consumers in UK and other countries in the EU”, Mr Birla added.
The FICCI President is the latest public figure to voice concern over the ban.
On Monday, Labour MP Keith Vaz slammed the decision, calling it “Euro-nonsense” and “bureaucracy gone mad”.
“Indian mangoes have been imported to Britain for centuries. I am furious with the lack of consultation with those who will be affected by the ban”, Mr Vaz said.
Mr Birla echoed those concerns about a lack of consultation given that India exports food products to countries with far more stringent quality control regimes, including the United States and Australia.
“The entire ecosystem for exports in India is well geared to meet the quality and safety requirements of countries across the world. Our farmers, packers and exporters supply agri-commodities to different countries.
“There may have been a few isolated cases in the past, but the way to deal with such a situation is through a discussion. We would have arrived at a constructive solution. What we have got now is a punitive solution that does not bode well for the larger economic relations between the two sides”, Mr Birla continued.
The inclusion of India’s famed Alphonso mangoes on the list of banned items has caused widespread anger, particularly among retailers and wholesalers in Britain which imports 90% of all Indian mangoes – some 16 million fruits – shipped to the EU.
Monica Bhandari from Fruity Fresh Ltd, the UK’s largest mango importer, told the Economic Times: “The European Commission meets once in however many months to decide on a host of issues. Brussels doesn’t care, because most of the imports are into the UK. Why would they? If the EU can ban products like this overnight, then this is a slippery slope to preventing all products from outside the EU. That isn’t positive for trade relations.”
Importers also say that pests such as fruit flies could potentially harm indigenous crops, the issue can be dealt with using irradiation, a process used to preserve food.
Since the outcry began on Monday, authorities in the UK have said they are “working closely” with India and the European Union to end the ban.
Environment Minister Lord de Mauley told the BBC: “India is a key trading partner and these temporary restrictions affect a tiny percentage of the successful business we conduct with them.
“We are working closely with our Indian and European counterparts to resolve the issue and resume trade in these select products as soon as possible.”
A Defra statement said: “The products banned can be sourced from other nations and will have minimal impacts on our supply.”