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INTERVIEW

“Virtual trade fairs are organised with importers of potential countries regularly”
Monday, 18 January, 2021, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) is mandated to promote and develop exports of agricultural and processed food products from India. Dr Tarun Bajaj, director of APEDA, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, shares information about the apex organisation’s yearly progress, virtual events, new market ventures, and exports post pandemic recovery, in an email interview with Manjushree Naik. Excerpts.

Exports from India bettered the earlier record last fiscal. How has this been affected this year due to pandemic?
In general, this financial fiscal year, there is an improvement in the exports last year.  In the month of April, 2020 of lockdown, there was down fall in exports to the extent of 25 per cent which in May, 2020 came down to 19 per cent and in June. 2020 to 10 per cent.  From July, 2020 onwards, increase vis.a.vis. the similar period was noticed and in August, 2020, it was increased to 7 per cent, September 13 per cent, October 18 per cent and November  20 per cent.  In general, till now there has been increase of more than 25 per cent in some sectors.  The increase has been impressive in Rice and wheat to more than 50 per cent, other cereal at 114 per cent, fresh fruits and vegetables 12 per cent, processed food products in general around 15 to 20 per cent.  However, marginal decrease in dairy and poultry which is likely to cover up during the remaining period of the year.  It is also important to note that during lockdown despite the limitation of transportation, shortage of labour and other factors, the decrease was to the extent of 25 per cent only.  APEDA worked in closed coordination with various departments interacted with trade on day to day basis to ensure that exports are not affected.  Regular Buyer Seller Meets (BSMs) and B2B interactions were conducted virtually.  The issues of the trade were handled on priority.  We managed to continue exports and met the international commitments and ensured that supplies are not interrupted.  In some cases, India also supplied food items through chartered planes on demand of the respective countries.  India has seen as a consistent and reliable supplier and we have gained significant goodwill this year for supplying interrupted quality goods despite limitations.   

It is confirmed that Corona does not spread through food but China recently expressed concerns over seafood from India. What are your observations?
We have come across news items from unconfirmed source that China expressed concern over sea food export from India.  Though we do not deal in sea food but in general it is scientifically established that corona does not spread through food which has also been confirmed by WHO.  The relevant departments and our Embassy may be addressing these issues at an appropriate level. 

India has done really well in rice exports in basmati as well as non-basmati in the last few months. Elaborate.
Yes, India has been doing well in exports of basmati and non basmati rice, it is primary for the reasons that there is an increase in demand in the international markets in order to address their food security concerns.  India has also seen as a reliable suppliers and trusted partner.  The export of rice has shown an increase of more than 50 per cent over the last year and in case of other cereals, the increase is more than 141 per cent. We are expecting that India will be able to do better in the coming months and in the coming year also. We would also like to place all sincere thanks to the farmers of the country who have given good production that we are able to feed our country and at the same time export to the world to meet the food security of other countries.  Our exporters are also working very hard to meet their commitment despite the limitations due to corona and related issues. APEDA has been facilitating and promptly addressing concerns of the exporters to promote exports. Due to Covid, physical participation in trade fairs and Buyer Seller Meet is not possible, virtual trade fairs and BSM are organised with the importers of the potential countries regularly.

India's rice exports have often faced food safety issues. How we have overcome this hurdle?
India is addressing food safety issues adequately not only in case of rice but in case of other food products as well.  In few countries, some of the issues with respect to MRL have been raised, they are not necessarily risk based or science based but technical reasons such as fixing the residue limits to the default level of detection.  The countries which are not producing or not using the particular pesticide or insecticide in their countries, are fixing the MRL to the default level of detection which is not science based. As per the Codex and international established norms because MRL is to be fixed  based on risk assessments.  Codex standards are fixed after consultations with the countries and they are pragmatic to a significant extent. However, some of the countries fix standards more stringent than Codex which is a matter of concern.  We have been taking up this issue bilaterally and in many cases, they have been resolved and some are at the stage of discussions and consultations.  

In recent times, India has captured new markets in mango exports. Elaborate.
Mango is one of our premier products.  Mango and mango products exports is around Rs 1100 crore per annum.  We are consistently trying to gain market access of targeted countries to increase our demand base and we have been successful in getting new markets such as South Korea, Mauritius, Australia and New Zealand and exports are happening as per their requirement and taking adequate mitigation measures.  Let us not forget that mango is a star product of India.  We ourselves are big consumers of this product and it is also relevant to mention that Alphonso has obtained GI tag which in coming time will fetch more premium.   

Indian vegetables and fruits have often faced issues with Europe and Gulf. Give us details on the issues and how we have overcome them.
Indian fruits and vegetable exports are one of the important sectors not only from the point of earning foreign exchange but also providing remunerative price to the farmers.  The exports are to the tune of Rs 9000 crores which also includes export to Europe, USA and Middle East. We have faced issues relating to MRL level in Europe and Gulf which as already mentioned above, is not necessarily risk based but fixed on the default level of detection. These issues have been addressed from time to time and we are successful in handling with the respective countries bilaterally and also bringing awareness among the growers with the help of respective state governments and exporters regarding judicious use of pesticides. Most of the issues have been resolved except in few cases which are likely to be resolved in the coming time.  

It is often said that countries like Pakistan and Vietnam are bettering India's record in export markets. What are your observations?
When we talk of export of agriculture and food products, India is doing consistently well. Pakistan is selling their basmati rice and some varieties of mangoes but they are not in our competition.  India has almost 80 per cent  market share of Basmati Rice. As regards, mango they export the mango varieties when our season of mangoes premier varieties such as Alphonso, Kesar and Baganpalli is over.  Vietnam is not in competition with regard to food product is concerned; however, I have no information about the fishery sector, as marine products are not looked after by APEDA.  

APEDA is taking several initiatives like Grapenet. How do these help in India's exports?
APEDA has taken many initiatives, Grapenet is one of them.  You will appreciate out of the total export of USD 35.1 billion of agro products; APEDA share is USD 16 billion which is approximately 46 per cent.  There are 700 product lines which are looked after by APEDA.  Traceability is one of the major initiatives taken by APEDA and that has given us a very good result whether it is horticulture sector, organic or other areas. Grape has become a star product for export  mainly because we are able to ensure traceability and address quality concern adequately and our exporters and growers have also put in their best efforts. APEDA has also facilitated in the development of required infrastructure both at the individual unit level such as pack-houses further at the exit ports, common infrastructure and upgradation of laboratories. This has completely changed the scenario and we are now one of the leading suppliers of the grapes in the world especially to EU.  In recent past, APEDA has taken special measures for promotion of scheduled products which includes strengthening and developing of organic certification, introducing farmer connect portal to link FPOs with the potential enterprises, regular interaction with trade, strong market intelligence cell has been created to gather market intelligence, SPS/TBT issues, further sharing with stakeholders through weekly bulletin and regular market intelligence reports. They are also hosted on the website of APEDA.  Country specific, agri export strategy have been prepared in consultation with the Indian Embassies/High Commissions.  State specific agri export action plan have been prepared in consultation with the states and action is being taken collectively dovetailing the various endeavours of other stakeholders and line ministries. MOUs have been signed for mutual cooperation with relevant institutions for promoting agri exports. Product specific export promotion forums have been formed. Special emphasis is being made on promotion of GI products which are unique to India and have good export potential.  

India's processed foods exports are compared to imports. How can this be changed?
Indian Processed food industry is growing very fast, this is a sunrise industry, Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI) are putting in their best efforts in establishing required infrastructure.  APEDA is also facilitating in developing the infrastructure in fulfilling the quality requirements of importing countries and doing market promotion.  Our exports of processed food products is increasing.  There is an increase in the processed  fruits and vegetables, juices and nuts, cereal preparation, jaggery and confectionery, cucumber and gherkins, milled products etc. Government of India is also giving adequate thrust on the development and promotion of processed food in the country.  We will be able to expand exponentially in the coming time in the field of processed food both in the domestic front and in the export as well. 

Most Indian processed foods exports comprise primary processed foods. How do we plan to increase our secondary and tertiary food exports?

World over the practice is that they have both primary and secondary processing industries. India has large production base and we are able to have primary industries also establishing more and more secondary processing based food products.  In most other countries, they do not have such large production base and they depend on importing primary processed items which they then convert into a secondary and tertiary processing.  India has advantage, we are able to have primary processing at the same time secondary processing also.  As mentioned, the processed food industry is developing very fast.  There is a growth both in the primary as well as in the secondary processing.  We hope to see further progress in the sector in this coming time because of significant government thrust.

What kind of exports are envisaged in the new year post-pandemic?
We have seen an increase of 50 per cent in food products this year vis.a.vis. last year and we hope to continue the trend in the coming year also.  World over there is increase in the demand of food products, they are looking to India because India has proved to be reliable and consistent suppliers and also meeting the quality requirements. Next year, we will be able to do better post pandemic.  There is already a target of Government of India to double the export and increase the farmers’ income in the agri export policy announced in 2018.
 
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