Though India is one of the largest food producing nations in the world, its international food exports are almost negligible, thanks to mammoth size domestic consumption. However, every now and then, India imports food (under one of the rigid and sturdiest food import norms) to tide over temporary deficiency and domestic market price issues. Amit Lohani, convener, Forum of Indian Food Importers (FIFI), an association which aims to encourage and support Indian food importers, and CEO, Max Foods, in an email interview with Hasan Mulani, talks about food import and related issues. Excerpts:
In India, where policy-makers aim to bring self sufficiency; talking about food imports doesn’t look gauche?
We, the food importers, believe that international foods, specifically confectionary, food stuff, processed foods from various developed and highly praised countries can never be looked at with a perspective to bring self sufficiency.
The intention of these food & beverage products is to create new benchmarks for domestic players in trade with knowledge of new trends in the world of food & beverage.
Our members at Forum of Indian Food Importers cater to the palate and not to the stomach of the Indian consumers.
Do you think importing food items in systematic way will help us to ease mounting food inflation?
The international food & beverage imported products are not listed in the food inflation index so any application to ease mounting food inflation is not relevant.
Additionally, the customs duties and other charges on imported food & beverage products are one of the highest in our F&B sector which also led to tremendous rise in price of imported food items.
The benefits for food importers’ are that Indian food industry’s acceptance to categories like pasta, sauces and yoghurts assist us to venture in these realms and adapt it to the Indian taste.
How are the food import regulations in India?
The food import norms in India are quite stringent and ambiguous. We would like a level plain field for all food & beverage products whether produced in India or abroad. The introduction of Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) has some clarity on issues and is a reform appreciated by trade.
What changes / modification the food importers seek to bring with FIFI. How you convene your voice to the government / policy-makers?
We, at FIFI, seek opening of the F&B sector with lowering of customs tariff, reducing non-tariff barriers, and updating of animal & plant quarantine laws.
We also look for upgrading of airports infrastructure, especially for international dairy and meat products. We have recently given our suggestions on the draft of the FSS Act and also talking to various ministries on related matters.
What are the current trends in the Indian food importing patterns? How would be the future of food imports?
The new mantra is gluten-free products, health foods and speciality foods items. The upscale markets have great appetite for these categories, which entail our importers to expand their portfolios.
Furthermore, food & beverages’ in the international segment is growing at a rapid pace of 20%-25% which is an eye-opener for domestic producers. We expect a lot of international flavours and savours in snacks category like Wasabi, Tom – Yum, BBQ to be big hit in the Indian snack & confectionery market in future.
The future also looks as bright as the sun as long as the consumers are looking for more international cuisines and willing to demand high quality products.
Could you tell us what are the aims & objectives of FIFI?
At present we have over 67-member companies and individuals and 11associate members. Since commencement, FIFI has been working on various fronts like bringing parity on import laws and aligning with international scenario, pushing forward Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with various countries, working with different food authorities and agriculture ministries’ for removal of non-tariff barriers and also working with port authorities to improve infrastructure, especially for perishable goods.
We also seek to create platform to interact with other members, institutions, state & Central governments, foray to meet global business and trade organisations and participate in seminars, training programmes, conferences and meeting.