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Circular put out by the Central Board of Excise and Customs
November, 10th 2010

A circular put out by the Central Board of Excise and Customs on November 3 is set to change the foodgrain import scenario.

According to the circular, statutory measures will be enforced by the Customs authorities on foodgrains that are imported before the consignments are released.

An annexure to the circular has irked importers, especially those dealing in pulses.

The annexure says an exporting country has to issue phyto-sanitary certificate for each consignment, while the country's national plant protection organisation has to give additional declaration on the shipment being free of pests. The consignment should also comply with special conditions that require its phyto-sanitary treatment.

Of particular concern to importers is this norm that requires all foodgrain imports into the country to be fumigated with methyl bromide to eliminate pests in the consignment.

The problem with the stipulation is that many countries have discontinued the process of fumigation with methyl bromide. Development nations have given an undertaking in the Kyoto Protocol, a UN framework convention on climate change, to undertake measures to prevent global warming and green house gases. They have stopped using the chemical from January 1, 2005.

According to the United Nations, this chemical is destroying the ozone layer 50 times faster than Freon. It is also very toxic to humans and animals. A study by the United Nations shows that it will be less expensive to eliminate methyl bromide and find alternatives than to finance the medical costs associated with the increase in skin cancer cases caused by increased exposure to ultra-violent rays, damage and destruction to crops and major weather changes.

Methyl bromide is used by farmers in countries such as the US before sowing to eradicate fungus, nematodes, weeds and micro-organisms that could affect crops.

According to Mr K.C. Bharatiya, President of the Pulses Importers Association, most of the countries do not fumigate. In countries where the temperature goes below zero degrees, there is no need for fumigation. We have taken up the issue with the authorities but they have refused to heed, he said.

Shortage feared
Pulses importers, in particular, feel that this could create shortage since the country depends on imports to make up production short-fall.

An exporter, speaking on condition of anonymity, said countries such as Myanmar that do not have methyl bromide will be badly hit.

We can't import from important sources such as South Africa, Thailand and Turkey, Mr Bharatiya said.

South Africa supplies pigeon pea, while Turkey is an important producer of chickpea (chana). Australia's chickpea exports to India could also be hit.

The order, however, provides for special treatment to the US, Canada and France. Consignment from these countries could be fumigated at the port of arrival in the country.

Officials say they want to regulate imports. When we pointed out to them that most of the countries will be hit, they are asking us to tell them to talk to our Government. We have alerted our suppliers, said an exporter.

They are pointing out at the US, Canada and France. These three countries had approached the Government and worked out a solution, he said.

Officials here see methyl bromide as an effective way to kill all pests, insects and nematodes. Substitution is costly and tricky, particularly in colder climates. Aluminium phosphide can be used as a fumigant instead but it takes three days to fumigate against 16 hours for methyl bromide. In addition, the cost also increases three times. Mr Bharatiya said the order has made it impossible for any consignment to reach Indian shores without being fumigated.

The move is also seen as a non-tariff barrier by India. One of the reasons for the Centre issuing the circular now and insisting on following the phyto-sanitary measures is higher production of kharif crops.

A flour mill source, when asked about the notification, said wheat imports are practically over and hence it was of no concern to the user industry.

The CBEC order said: All consignments of foodgrains may be referred to Plant Quarantine authorities at respective point of entry for phyto-sanitary inspection before release by Customs.

These consignments will be allowed clearance only after getting no objection certificate from plant quarantine authorities.

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