Row over basmati rice causes latest India and Pakistan friction

Joe Wallen
·2-min read
Neighbours India and Pakistan have fought four wars over the last 100 years  - Vincent Thian/The Associated Press
Neighbours India and Pakistan have fought four wars over the last 100 years - Vincent Thian/The Associated Press

Tensions are once again boiling over between India and Pakistan - only this time over basmati rice, the long-grained aromatic staple of dinners around the world. 

Islamabad has taken offence to New Delhi’s plans to seek permission from the European Union (EU) to export the grain as a product unique to India, known as protected geographical indication (PGI).

Other products the EU currently recognises as having PGI status, described as possessing “qualities, reputation or characteristics relating to its place of origin”, include Stilton cheese and Scottish whisky.

Pakistan fears that if India is able to obtain this qualification standard, it will suggest that Indian basmati rice is superior to the Pakistani equivalent and harm its exports.

Currently, the EU imports two-thirds of its approximately 900,000 metric tonnes of basmati rice annually from India, although Pakistan makes up the remaining third.

Basmati rice is a key export for both India and Pakistan - Fabeha Monir/Oxfam
Basmati rice is a key export for both India and Pakistan - Fabeha Monir/Oxfam

The Pakistani share of the market has increased significantly in recent years, after unsafe levels of the pesticide tricylazole were found in some Indian grains.

An emergency meeting of Pakistan’s commerce secretary, the chair of the country’s intellectual property organisation and representatives of Rice Exports Association of Pakistan was held when the news broke of India’s application.

The Pakistani authorities are expected to file a formal objection to the EU before December. "Pakistan will vehemently oppose India's application in the EU and restrain India from obtaining exclusive PGI tag of basmati rice," a statement issued by the Pakistani authorities said.

A spokesman for the European Commission confirmed India’s application: “The commission has published the application for registration of the name “basmati” from India as a proposed protected geographical indication (PGI).

“This publication gives the opportunity for stakeholders to lodge opposition for a three-month period… If an opposition is received from any party, the commission will ensure it is in line with standing procedures, ensuring the rights of all parties are scrupulously respected.”