LAHORE - The restriction of mandatory membership of Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) and monopoly over rice exports by its members should be undone immediately to enhance rice export, which is stagnant for the last many years.

The rice export volumes are facing stagnation, especially the basmati rice exports have registered a decline from 1.2 million tons a few years ago to 0.7 million tons in the last fiscal year, just due to unnecessary restrictions and hurdles created by the Reap, which wants to continue its monopoly, claimed the Basmati Growers Association chairman Hamid Malhi.

“With a view to increase exports, the number of exporters must be increased. And for this, the mandatory membership condition of Reap must go, as these are the shackles, which should be broken to free rice exports from unnecessary restrictions and obstacles,” he added.

He said that Indians have increased basmati rice exports from 1.2 million tons to 3.2 million tons in the same period. There is nothing much to boast of REAP members, he stated. He said that it is unfortunate that 75 per cent of Pakistan basmati exports land in the Middle East without any brand name at cheaper rates and only 14,000 tons are exported to USA while a meagre 44,000 tons are being exported to EU.

He said: “The worry about the sui generis law is superficial. The current litigation and opposition to the basmati growers by the rice exporter association, to register basmati as a Geographical Indication in Pakistan, has put the country on the backfoot as the registration could not be completed while a similar application was tendered by the exporters themselves under the same law, self-contradicting the sui generis clamour they are fond of. The present law is sufficient for GI protection and confirms to WTO requirements. Why didn’t the exporters oppose the Indian application to register basmati as a GI in India if they were so concerned about losing the edge in basmati exports? Jointly with India or without it, we can challenge any member country which infringes on our right of basmati, we just need the nod of the Ministry of Commerce to proceed further. There is nothing to be afraid of, WTO has enabled very small countries to challenge and win cases in WTO against the USA.”

He said that rice exporters, while pretending to protect the stakeholder chain, intend to put the highly taxed production of rice in the country up against the subsidised Indian rice production under their free trade policy. This is bound to ruin rice production in the country. They thrive on a depressed domestic market and shy away from branding and exploring new markets, he claimed. The QRC was established by TDAP and its management was handed over to them but the REAP exploited the authority to its extreme and the rice exports suffered immensely. He demanded the government that the condition of association’s membership must be withdrawn for all rice exporters and they should be allowed to grow without the crutches of govt. Rules and regulations are the domain of the government in a free and fair market economy and not comes in the ambit of monopolies.