Rice business calls Govt’s attention

By: Hamdan Butt

Pakistan has short listed two law firms in Brussels, Messrs Altius international law firm and Messrs Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick, to defend its right to sell the popular basmati rice.Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to pick one of the two firms for the job. Once again the basmati rice has become controversial. In a previous controversy around two decades ago, the US produced its own basmati, combining Indian basmati seed with their long grain.There was a protest by more than 500, 000 Indian farmers outside US embassy to claim the variety, contending it had an aromatic aroma and taste which cannot be produced on other lands. Pakistan and India stood firm against the US to stop its rice production with the basmati tag. They maintained the basmati rice production was not the matter of seed but geography.They argued that this taste and aroma belonged to the soil of Punjab. American authorities agreed to their petition and stopped using the name basmati for their rice. After a few years India claimed that basmati only belonged to them and named seven states in India which can produce basmati rice. The issue was resolved in 2005 when Pakistan presented its defence that rice was produced in Pakistan from Karachi to northern heights but basmati is only produced in a certain belt of Punjab which is part map of Pakistan after the 1947 partition. In 2006, European Union ended all the tariffs on the export of basmati rice, agreeing to its geographical uniqueness just like “pharma” cheese and Scotch whisky was only produced in Italy and Scotland. In Europe cheese cannot be sold with the name “pharma” and whisky cannot be sold with the name Scotch unless they are from their home countries. Pakistan and India later discussed jointly applying for basmati rights. The talks fell apart after 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Pakistan passed domestic Geographical Indication Bill in March 2020 while India made their GI law in 1999. The GI is used to make a product having qualities, reputation or characteristics relating to its place of origin. A few weeks ago India filed a petition in EU claiming to be the sole producer of basmati rice by presenting geographical peculiarities and environmental factors of basmati. They insisted the basmati rice could only be produced in the seven states of India. This petition was vehemently opposed my Razzak Dawood, advisor to PM Imran Khan on the business and commerce. Pakistan’s economy is already suffering and struggling due to numerous reasons. Pakistan is an agro- based economy with agriculture sector contributing about 25% of total GDP having immense value of rice being the third largest crop being cultivated in terms of area after wheat and cotton contributing more than $2 billion in total and around $1 billion is from Europe. Pakistani basmati has a share of 35% in the world basmati market, highest after India. The EU banned Indian basmati containing cancerous fungicide and asked Pakistan to stop using that pesticide or a red flag will be raised against their basmati as well. Pakistan only consumes 25% of the rice it produces the rest is available for export. It is the prime time for Pakistan to get its GI tagging at home then apply for international GI tag to boost its rice export. Pakistan is presently working to balance its current account deficit. The unavailability of containers for export is also a major drawback to rice exporter association of Pakistan. If timely decisions are made, the rice business of Pakistan could enter a new era.