LAHORE - Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (Reap) chairman Javed Islam Agha has said that basmati rice export jumped to 1,138,000 metric tons in 2010-11 from 347,000 metric tons in 2000-01, registering an increase of 228 per cent averaging 23 per cent per annum for the last 10 years.

The Reap chairman, while talking to TheNation, took strong exception to Basmati Growers Association (BGA) recent statement that the basmati rice exports were stagnant because of restriction of mandatory membership of Reap. Stating the actual position, he said that in value, basmati rice exports increased from $171 million in 2000-01 to $953 million in 2010-11, an increase of 457 per cent averaging 46 per cent raise per year. The above figures, by no means, could be termed as stagnation but a very healthy growth instead, he added.

He advised the BGA to concentrate on development of new varieties to compete with India, improve their harvesting techniques, drying it to avoid any aflatoxin and use proper harvesters to avoid percentage of broken rice; as presently paddy consists of up to 25 per cent broken rice, also having moisture of over 26 per cent, affecting negatively in international market.

He asked the BGA to plant only basmati variety instead of hybrid varieties in the area of G I to which they are aspiring to own. It is on record that Reap strongly opposed the opening of rice trade with India unless level playing field is provided, he said. He stated that BGA was nowhere to be seen in protecting the farmers’ rights before opening of trade with India. He said that total rice export has increased from $462 million in 2000-2001 to $2.091 billion in 2010-11 recording an increase of 353 percent or an average increase of 35 percent per annum.

The actual exports of basmati during the last fiscal year stood at 969,000 tons and not 700,000 tons as reported by BGA which although is 15 percent less than last year but has been attained in spite of a very tough competition with India and $200 decrease in Indian basmati prices; a highly bullish local market 35 percent more than last year coupled with a debilitating energy crisis and crop shortages of both super basmati and PK-385 Basmati.

At present, Pak Super Basmati in the local market is Rs 3,650 per 40 kg which is not at all workable for export.

He said that entire population of legal age can become a member of Reap by producing a copy of NTN certificate and membership of any chamber. Reap has 1,500 members from all over the country, holds election every year, has healthy opposition and a member exporting one container or thousand containers are all equal and has one vote. It cannot be termed as a monopoly because Reap does not restrict any one from export and does not promote price manipulation.

Refuting the BGA allegations, he said that a Reap member has to write his registration number on his bag so that any complaint from abroad can be traced. Secondly, the member has to abide by the rules set forth by Reap for admixture level and damaged grains to qualify to print the words “Basmati Rice” on the bags. If these are the shackles which BGA wants to remove than we are afraid they want to go back to the era of 90’s before QRC when blending of rice was the order of the day and Pakistani basmati had lost its identity.

It is only after the mandatory membership of Reap and pre-shipment inspection by QRC developed by Reap primarily for EU later implemented by Mincom for all exports of rice upon its great success in EU markets.

He said that Basmati Growers Association (BGA), which is neither a registered trade body with DTO nor with SECP, has insufficient representation of the stakeholders as defined by TRIPS. They wish to own Basmati G I exclusively as growers, offering a two years respite after which they intend to clamp down with regulatory charges and regimentation as owner of Basmati G I through collective marks in Pakistan.

Reap’s view point is that our heritage in Basmati should be owned by the government instead of allowing its membership to any private grouping for purposes of blackmailing the genuine Basmati farmers, dealers, millers, traders. The growers are the just one link of the chain they alone cannot represent the entire rice chain, he added.

A suigeneris geographical indications law was approved in the Strategic Trade Policy Framework 2009-12 and TDAP was given the mandate to get it finalised. In fact what we need is homonymous G I that allows for Pakistani Basmati that we define and Indian Basmati that they define. 26pc