Bhutanese Gingers not allowed for export to India (Photo By Drukyul Destiny)

Vegetable export issue will continue in future unless the country adds value to the products: MoEA Minister

According to the Economic Affairs Minister, Loknath Sharma, import and export business is becoming institutionalized as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, and this will become the norm around the world.

Lyonpo said that there were various unofficial routes, and India began to systematize its trade after the ice gate was opened prior to the pandemic.

“Everything is in a computerized system, now that an ice gate has been erected, and each country has its own laws for importing vegetables, fruits, and meat, including India. For instance, we couldn’t import chilli because of pests, and India follows the same laws, requiring Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) and Plant Quarantine certifications, which they have been placed in a customs gate. And everything is starting to take shape,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said, “Before it was updated, only asparagus was on the export list, and even the Indian government didn’t notify the country what could and couldn’t be exported, and even the agriculture ministry couldn’t research what the restrictions were in India and Bangladesh since no one knew where to acquire it.”

In the past cardamom export issue arose, and government quickly resolved it, as well as the other five products: cardamom, mandarin, ginger, apple and areca nut.

“We learned that the PRA was required, and we received the PRA for these five items, and we later learned about the issues with cabbage and carrot, and we received the PRA, which took time, and we also received the plant quarantine certificate, and now the problem with areca nut, potato, and ginger has arisen, as they have a specific import policy on these items,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo added that India imports areca nut at a rate of 215 Rupees per kg, as per their policy and the one they import is processed, which is supari and moza doma.

“Our country faces difficulty in exporting since we export raw areca nut at 80 Rupees per kilo which doesn’t match their policy, but our people are unaware of this and continue to sell raw areca nut,” Lyonpo added.

“If we want to export areca nuts to India, we need to add value. If we can’t add value, we won’t be able to export them. We could request GoI one time, but it isn’t possible since we shouldn’t request. We should go professionally,” Lyonpo added.

India imports soil-free potatoes, which the country has not been able to produce till now, and since GoI also want potatoes this time due to the pandemic, potato have been given approval for export until next year.

Now the situation with ginger has emerged, nevertheless, when the government reviewed the documents, it was discovered that in 2016, an agreement was signed between Nepal and India, and it stated that fresh ginger would be imported from Nepal. However, there was no mention of Bhutan.

“The country is unable to export ginger since India does not allow ginger imports from any country other than Nepal. We’ve also asked India to accept ginger import because we don’t have much of it. However, it will take time,” Lyonpo said, adding that government’s only options is to buy from the farmers, toss it away, or do everything they can, but India will find it tough to accept.

Cabbage and carrot have been included in PRA, and as far as the ministry is aware, there are no import restrictions in GoI’s system. The government is hopeful that cabbage and carrot export can be done without difficulties.

Lyonpo said that there is an overproduction of ginger in India at the moment, with the rate of ginger falling to 10 Rupees.

“People tell us that the government isn’t helping them, but we don’t have a choice. It is their country, and they have a policy of their own. People argue that we should stop importing chilli from India, but they fail to grasp that if we stop importing chilli from India, India could stop importing everything from our country. We only see the immediate scene, not the wider picture. We have a lot of trade complexities like this,” Lyonpo said.

Meanwhile, Lyonpo said that GoI refused to consider import of ginger and informed that it might not be accepted.

“Now we’re discussing with Ministry of Agriculture and telling them that trading isn’t an option, and the only thing we can do is buy back from farmers because it’s harvest season, and even if we have to throw, we’ll do so, but the farmer shouldn’t suffer,” Lyonpo said.

Seven items have recently been issued with PRA, and the government is optimistic that there will be no issues.

As per Lyonpo, if a value is added to the areca nut, it will be imported by other countries, which the government is already doing so in Samtse and Gelephu, and the villagers should understand that it is not difficult to give the value addition of areca nut, and make supari and other items.

Lyonpo added that if the country wants to add value to ginger, it should be turned into powder, which is not popular in our nation.

“If we want to add value, we should make ginger oil and non-alcoholic drinks, which we are already discussing with the Ministry of Agriculture,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo added, “To be honest, trade concerns will continue, and we will continue discussions with GoI about it, but trading raw products will be difficult. So we must consider value addition, and if we do so, they will not be able to stop us if we match their standards.”

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