Recently, the European Commission published India’s GI application for ‘Basmati’ rice in the European Union. Pakistan, the only other country that exports Basmati has announced that it will challenge India’s application. As per available data, India holds more than 85% share of the global ‘Basmati’ exports.
The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is an international legal agreement among the members of WTO which covers the areas of intellectual property rights such as copyright and related rights, trademarks, geographical indications (GI), patents, and more. The agreement defines geographical indications as ‘an indication which identifies a good as originating in the territory of a member, or a regional locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.’
GI is territorial
In simpler terms, GI can be understood as a tag on products which have a specific geographical origin and possess certain qualities and reputation because of that origin. Some examples of popular geographical indications are Roquefort cheese from France, Swiss Watches, and Washington State Apples. (A detailed story on what GIs are and its significance was previously written by Factly). GIs are territorial, implying that GI should be applied for, in different countries or regions as there is not any international right or registry.
India’s application for GI over Basmati has been published by EU
Recently, the European Commission published India’s Protected Geographical Indication application in the European Union for ‘Basmati’, the rice which is popularly used for making Biriyanis and Pulao. Basmati has been described as, ‘a special long grain aromatic rice grown and produced in a particular geographical region of the Indian sub-continent. In India, this region is a part of northern India, below the foothills of the Himalayas forming part of the Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP)’, in the application. Geographic area where the rice grain is produced has been mentioned as all districts in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, as well as in specific districts of western Uttar Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.
Pakistan is opposing India’s claim
Pakistan, which is the only other country in the world to produce Basmati rice besides India, has opposed India’s claim and has planned to challenge the application. Getting the GI tag can help India boost its export of Basmati rice, which may hit Pakistan’s exports of the same. According to the EU’s regulations, countries can file opposition to GI claims within a period of 3 months from the publication in the Official Journal of the European Union. It has to be noted that the Pakistan Government enacted the GI (Registration and Protection) Act only in March 2020. In India, GI Act has been in force since 1999.
India holds more than 85% share of global Basmati Rice exports
India already accounts for a lion’s share of Basmati rice exports. More than 85% of the global Basmati exports (by quantity and by value) are from India. In India, the quantity of Basmati exported is about 37% of the total rice exports by quantity and 60% by value in 2018-19. During the same period, in Pakistan, Basmati exports comprised of 13% of rice exports by quantity and almost 29% by value.
India’s export of Basmati has gone up by 19% while Pakistan’s dropped by 26% in 5 years
In the five years between 2014-15 and 2018-19, according to parliament responses, India’s Basmati exports have increased. From about 36.99 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) in 2014-15, the export of Basmati has increased to 44.15 LMT in 2018-19, an increase of over 19%. In 2019-20, India has exported 44.55 LMT of Basmati worth USD 4.25 Billion. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s export of Basmati has dropped from 6.77 LMT in 2014-15 to 5.37 LMT in 2018-19, a decrease of around 26%. Nonetheless, the quantity of export of Basmati in both the countries has been witnessing an increasing trend since 2016-17.
In terms of value, India’s Basmati export dropped by 29% from USD 4.5 Billion in 2014-15 to USD 3.2 Billion in 2016-17. However, the exports have gradually increased to USD 4.7 Billion in 2018-19, which is a 47% increase compared to the value in 2016-17. In the five years between 2014-15 & 2018-19, India’s Basmati exports has grown by 4% in terms of value. Concomitantly, Pakistan, which has also witnessed a similar trend has recorded an overall drop in Basmati export by nearly 15% in terms of value.
Export to EU has gone down
Major importers of Basmati from India are the Middle Eastern countries. In 2018-19, around 76% of the Basmati exports from India were to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, and UAE. According to the data released by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), between 2017-18 and 2019-20, the quantity of Basmati exported by India to countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, USA, Canada, Australia, Israel, Nepal, Russia, Ireland, and Japan has been increasing in terms of quantity. Meanwhile, the export to countries like UAE, Qatar, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Croatia, France, Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland has decreased consistently. The exports to most of the countries in European Union (EU) have reduced. The European Union issued new standards in the pesticides residue content in Basmati in 2017 to deem it fit for import. The new norms have resulted in the drop in exports of Basmati to the European Union. Presence of chemicals in Basmati being imported from India and Pakistan was discussed in the EU earlier this year.
GI tag helps maintain quality
Getting the GI tag enables those holding the right to prevent a third-party from using the tag if their product does not match up to the pertinent standards. This does not mean that the holder of the tag can stop anyone else who is producing using the same techniques as per the set standards. For instance, those producing & selling tea in the jurisdictions where the Darjeeling GI is protected, have to adhere to the standards set in the GI code of practice. Else, they will not be allowed to use the Darjeeling tag. Darjeeling is the GI tag associated with tea that has been registered by EU. Another application filed by India was for the Kangra Tea in 2008.
Claim to Basmati in dispute even among states
Basmati is a registered GI in India. However, as per the registry, the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Jammu & Kashmir are the producers of Basmati. Madhya Pradesh also claimed to market rice under Basmati tag and hence APEDA was asked by the GI registry to include Madhya Pradesh among those states that grow Basmati, in December 2013. Later, APEDA challenged this before the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) in 2014. The Madhya Pradesh government later challenged the same before the Madras High Court and the HC dismissed the claim. The matter reportedly has been taken up at the apex court.