Published: Monday 30 September 1996

Indian policy-makers are slowly waking up to the needs of a multilateral market which is placing a high premium on the environment. Following the US ban on shrimp exports from India, exporters are gearing up to fight the so-called 'phytosanitary' conditions specified by the World Trade Organization (WTO), which seek to avoid agricultural imports from the Third World countries.

Economists with the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), New Delhi, recently cautioned Indian traders against such arm-twisting policies of the developed countries. Under the cover of WTO, these nations were trying to raise new trade barriers against developing countries. India is likely to negotiate for the standardisation of these conditions in WTO's forthcoming round of talks in Singapore.

The phytosanitary conditions concerning plant residues in imported products include specific treatment or processing of products, maximum permissible pesticide residues and the use of certain specific additives in food. Referring to the loopholes in the WTO provisions, the IIFT director-general, P L Sanjeev Reddy said that the developed nations had made the phytosanitary conditions a major trade issue by exploiting the WTO provisions which tend to protect their interests. These conditions have not been standardised by the WTO, they merely state that using plant, human and health standards for protectionist ends is disallowed.

On the production front, India has already taken steps to ensure quality exports by implementing the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act and orders relating to fruit products, milk and milk products and meat products, informed Reddy. However, in order to exploit its tremendous potential for exporting agricultural inputs when the WTO comes into force in 2005, India has to cover a lot of ground on the sanitary and phytosanitary front.

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