Don’t worry, experts say after Pakistan gets GI tag for its own Basmati rice

Basmati joint heritage of the subcontinent; Pakistan’s exports will not dent India's share

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Thursday 28 January 2021
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Experts on Basmati rice and patents said there was no cause for worry January 28, 2021 a day after Pakistan said it had got a Geographical Indications (GI) tag for its Basmati rice.

They also noted that Basmati rice was a joint heritage of India and Pakistan and that Pakistan was as entitled to secure its Basmati rice trade as India. They added that Pakistan securing the GI tag for its Basmati rice would, in no way, dent India’s Basmati exports.

On January 27, Pakistan Commerce Adviser Abdul Razak Dawood had broken the news about securing the GI tag on microblogging site, Twitter


Pakistan’s leading daily, Dawn noted on its website that according to the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (Reap), the Trade and Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) had been designated as a Registrant of Basmati by the federal government.

TDAP had made an application to register Basmati to the country’s Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO). The IPO had mapped the regions in Pakistan where Basmati was grown following recommendations from all Pakistani provinces. 

Some media reports have said that the development in Pakistan would weaken India’s case in the European Union (EU). 

India has applied for an exclusive GI tag to Indian-origin basmati rice with the EU’s Council on Quality Schemes for Agricultural and Foodstuffs. The application was published in an official EU journal September 11, 2020, after clearing internal evaluations.

In response, Reap filed a Notice of Opposition against the Indian claim in the EU December 7.

Experts were, however of the view that there was no need for either party to be worried.

“Before 1947, we were one. Both countries share the Basmati rice-growing zone. In India, we grow Basmati in seven states and Union Territories. Pakistan has its own Basmati-growing area,” Ashok Kumar Singh, deputy director general (Agricultural Extension), Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, said.

Singh added that New Delhi had never contested Islamabad’s right to file a GI for its Basmati.

“A GI tag can be filed in international fora only when one has GI laws in their country. So far, Pakistan did not have them. But now, it has enacted an Act and can thus follow India’s path. We had a GI Act in place in 2001 and filed an application in 2008. We are much ahead of them. There is no need to worry,” Singh added.

A GI is a tag on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess certain qualities due to that origin and are safeguarded by legalities such as by the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

India’s Basmati zone includes Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and (western) Uttar Pradesh.

“I don’t know why everybody is panicking because Pakistan has done its homework very late. This is just the first step for it. It has a long way to go. Pakistan has an equally strong claim over Basmati. It has been exporting Basmati, though much less compared to India, but one that is widely accepted, especially in Europe,” Latha Jishnu, who has followed matters related to intellectual property rights for nearly 25 years, told Down To Earth (DTE).

In December last year, DTE had noted that Pakistan’s Basmati belt was the Kalar bowl, a tract of land in the interfluve between the Ravi and the Chenab rivers, comprising the Narowal, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Hafizabad and Sheikhupura districts in Punjab province.

Jishnu also noted that initially, there was a strong move by both countries to file a GI together. But it got overtaken by politics. Also, the fact that Pakistan had no nodal agency with which the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority of India could have dealt was a factor, she added.

She also highlighted the fact about Madhya Pradesh (MP) vying for a slice of the Basmati market:

Basmati is supposed to be in the Indo-Gangetic Plain. There is a specific geographical area where Basmati is grown. Just because newer states like MP are growing Basmati does not mean they can get a GI tag. MP said at the height of the coronavirus pandemic that they should be included in the GI tag for Basmati. That is one reason why Pakistan has gone ahead and pushed its case. So if we have to thank anybody, it is MP  

Vijay Setia, president of All India Rice Exporters Association, is in agreement. “Pakistan began its initiative only after MP jumped in. (MP Chief Minister) Shivraj Singh Chouhan was in Delhi even before taking his oath of office. Is he for farmers or private individuals?” Setia asked.

“Pakistan does produce Basmati, but only in 14 districts. It is limited and cannot pose any threat to Indian output. India should focus on its seven states. If anything is produced in Rajasthan or MP, it can be and is already being sold in the Indian domestic market,” he added.

According to Setia, Punjab and Haryana accounted for 40 per cent each of India’s Basmati exports while the remaining 20 per cent came from other states. “We exported 4.4 million tonnes of Basmati last year and hope to cross that threshold this year,” he said. 

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