India’s curbs on import of pulses: US, Australia, EU raise concerns at WTO

Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) including the US, Canada, Australia, European Union and Japan have raised concern over India’s quantitative restrictions on import of pulses.

India restricted imports of green gram (moong) and black gram (urad) at 300,000 tonnes and that of pigeon peas (arhar) at 200,000 tonnes in August in the wake of domestic harvest and concerns over the slump in prices of traditional pulses.

The issue came up in a 20 April meeting of the committee on import licensing at the WTO with countries alleging that quantitative restrictions by India on import of pulses distort global prices and put the future of farmers across many countries in peril. India has been the largest producer, as well as traditionally the largest importer of pulses to ensure steady supply of the protein-rich diet to its citizens.

A commerce ministry official speaking under condition of anonymity said India defended the import restrictions as they are compliant with WTO rules. “However, India promised to notify the quota allocations and procedures for 2018 and 2019 soon for the benefit of other countries,” the official said.

India’s agriculture ministry has projected that production of pulses would touch a record 24 million tonnes in 2017-18, up from 23 million tonnes the year before.

While WTO mandates elimination of quantitative restrictions covering all import- and export-related measures, exceptions are allowed under specific circumstances such as to safeguard the balance of payments, to protect an industry at an early stage of development or to prevent sudden increases in imports.

India’s decisions in November to raise import duties on pulses by up to 50 per cent and put stringent fumigation requirements have also irked pulse exporting countries. Canada even raised the matter bilaterally during the visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to India in April.

Canada used to supply pulses of around $1 billion to India every year. India gave less time to Canada to comply with the new fumigation norms compared to the US and Australia, prompting complaints of discrimination.

“We are extremely concerned over India’s increase in duties by 50 per cent of all imported peas without providing any advance notice. The Prime Minister will undoubtedly be raising it at the first opportunity he gets,” Canadian agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay told the House of Commons in November after India’s decision.

A joint statement issued after the meeting between Trudeau and Modi in February this year promised to finalize “mutually acceptable technological protocols” within 2018 to enable the export of Canadian pulses to India free from pests of quarantine importance.

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