Monday, November 29, 1999

Solution to grapes exports impasse soon

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The deadlock over the ban of Indian grape exports to the European Union seems to be heading for a solution as the ambassador of the Netherlands to India decided to visit grapes exporting units in Maharashtra on Saturday to have a first-hand experience of presence of chemicals in Indian grapes. Grapes exports to the European Union had come under a cloud because of presence of chlormequat, a chemical residue, in some of the consignments a few weeks back.The Netherlands in one of the largest buyers of Indian grapes among the EU countries and officials feel that any loss of market in that country could have a cascading impact on other EU nations as well leading to debilitating impact on India's overall fruit exports.Sources told FE that the impasse was broken after a communication from the commerce ministry to key grape importing countries encouraged the Netherlands ambassador to see key facilities in Maharashtra, the country's biggest grapes exporting region.Meanwhile, commerce secretary Rahul Khullar has expressed hope that something was round the corner and a positive decision could be expected by the next week.Grape exporters are facing an estimated loss of Rs 273 crore as European authorities have rejected consignments from India over the use of the chemical to preserve the fruit. According to exporters, as many as 2,600 containers worth around Rs 273 crore are stuck at ports in various European countries with the biggest chunk in the Netherlands.Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are major exporters of grapes and in order to keep the fruit fresh, exporters usually use chlormequat as preservative. However, the use of chlormequat is not accepted in many EU countries.According to trade sources, most of the rejected containers are lying at the Rotterdam (Netherlands) port. There are 140 farmers in Maharashtra registered for exports. India is aiming to increase its grape exports to the EU to around 44,000 tonne from 37,000 tonne last year because of low supplies from Chile.Indian exporters say it is difficult to follow food safety guidelines in the European Union as all member-nations have their own rules. In the case of chlormequat, the 27-member European Union has not formulated any specific maximum residue level (MRL). "In the absence of any specific norms ,we have been following the default level of 0.05 gm per kg standard," a grape exporter from Pune said.The maximum permissible level is 1 gm per kg in the country. The European Food Safety Authority, in its latest safety study report, has said that no acute consumer health risk is expected if table grapes with a mean chlormequat residue concentration of 1.06 gm per kg are consumed.Trades sources said that there are 98 types of pesticide residue whose presence in the grapes consignment need to be tested. However, due the absence of any coherent norms in the EU, exporters have been are yet to decide on whether any tests should be conducted on the grapes consignment. They are worried that time is running out because the grape export period lasts for six to seven weeks only."We have already lost two weeks and any further delay would result in huge financial loss," another exporter said.India exports grapes worth close to Rs 500 crore, mostly to the EU and Gulf countries. The total volume of exports has been around 80,000 tonne annually. The total market is worth Rs 10,000 crore in the country.

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