INDO-PAK clash of GI tag over ‘Basmati’ rice.
From the battleground to the cricket ground we saw a lot of tension between India and Pakistan. This time the battle was neither of Junagadh nor did the battle for Kashmir but the dispute was over the tag of Geographical Index for Basmati Rice. This is not the first time India has the fight for its own heritage, culture, and spiritual identity. Indian indigenous knowledge has always been points of convergence for bio-piracy whether it is a battle with the United States for getting patent over distinguish characteristics of Turmeric and Neem or battle with Pakistan for GI registration of Pashmina. However, to reduce the scope of discussion, this article will only talk about the Indo-Pak bloodshed over the GI tag for Basmati Rice.
What is the Geographical Index/Tag?
A geographical indication (GI) is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, characteristics, or a reputation that are due to that origin. Since qualities depend on the geographical place of production, there is a clear link between the product and its original place of production.
Basmati Rice- The Cause of Bloodshed
‘Basmati’ is special long grain aromatic rice that is grown and produced in a particular geographical region of the Indian sub-continent. In India, this region is a part of northern India, below the foothills of the Himalayas forming part of the Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP). The special characteristics of ‘Basmati’ are its long slender kernels with a high length to breadth ratio, an exquisite aroma, sweet taste, soft texture, delicate curvature, intermediate amylose content, high integrity of grain on cooking, and linear kernel elongation with least breadth-wise swelling on cooking. In India, ‘Basmati’ is grown and produced in all districts of the states of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, as well as in specific districts of western Uttar Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.
Game of Basmati Rice: From where did it all start?
In order to establish a good relationship, India and Pakistan agree to jointly file the GI application in the EU for the Basmati Rice. However, it could never happen due to the intensifying tension between the two countries. On 26/11/2008 the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) file a GI application for registration under Indian Geographical Registry and successfully a registration certificate was issued in 2016.
In 2018, after two years of its domestic registration India file an application at the European Commission for Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). The PGI was implemented by the European regulation in 1992 that identifies an agricultural product, raw or processed, where quality, reputation, or other characteristics are linked to its geographical origin. In September 2020 the application for registration was published in the European Union Journal and is open to the opposition.
The application cited the reason that the reputation, given quality and specific characteristics of ‘Basmati’ rice is the basis of the application for registration as a protected geographical indication. In the application, India has stated that the name ‘Basmati’ is derived from two Sanskrit word, ‘Vas’ meaning ‘aroma’ and ‘Mati’ meaning ‘ingrained from the origin’ which essentially means ‘the one containing aroma’. The application further stated that ‘basmati’ is a non-geographical name which by virtue of its centuries-old reputation identifies rice coming from the Indo-Gangetic Plains. The application further discusses the historical origin of the Basmati wherein it was stated that the first recorded reference to ‘Basmati’ rice can be found in the epic Punjabi poem Heer Ranjha by the great Punjabi Poet Varis Shah dated 1766. The application also stated various Environmental and Human factors in the sowing, harvesting, and processing of ‘Basmati’.
The application claims special characteristics of ‘Basmati’ for its long slender kernels with the high length-breadth ratio of at least 3:5. It emits a specific aroma in the field, at harvesting, in storage, during milling, cooking, and eating. This aroma is due to a harmonious combination of more than 200 chemical compounds among which, 2-acetyl-1-pyroline (2AP) is the most predominant. This aromatic chemical compound 1in Basmati found 12 times more than non-basmati rice which gives it a distinctive fragrance and flavor. Another distinguishing characteristic is that Cooked Basmati grains have a low Glycaemic Index which results in high integrity. The sweet taste and distinct mouth feel of cooked ‘Basmati’ are due to various factors including intermediate amylose content (about 22%) leading to soft and fluffy texture with high integrity of the cooked grain.
In the end, India claimed that these elements associated with ‘Basmati’ give it a global reputation as a geographical indication. India asserted that any member of the trade or public in India or abroad ordering ‘Basmati’ or seeing rice advertised or offered for sale as ‘Basmati’ will expect the rice so ordered, advertised, or offered for sale to be the rice cultivated, grown, and produced in the geographical area with the special characteristics of Basmati.
Pakistan Opposition – The Last Minute Rush
On 8th December 2020 just before 48 hours ahead of the expiry of the deadline to oppose the application Pakistan file its opposition against the Indian GI application for basmati rice through a Brussels-based international law firm, Messrs Altius. The opposition was the result of the meeting chaired by Abdul Razak Dawood- the Advisor for Commerce, Textile, Industry, and Production, and Investment of Pakistan and was attended by Mohammad Younus Dagha- the Secretary Commerce; Mujeeb Khan- IPO Chairman; representative of Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan and Government Legal Advisors.
It is pertinent to mention that possible ground of opposition mainly arises from the Indian GI application may include- argument concerning Indo-Gangetic Plains and the history of Basmati Rice. As it is evident in the GI application filled by the India basmati is mainly grown in Indo-Gangetic Plains which covers eastern parts of Pakistan and some parts of Bangladesh and Nepal. Secondly, the history of Basmati rice was recorded in the Poem of Varis Shah who was a resident of Sheikhupura (present-day Punjab, Pakistan). These two references might weaken India’s GI application for the Basmati rice.
However, on the other hand, India says it never claimed exclusivity over the Indian Origin of the Basmati rice. It merely refers that basmati rice is mainly grown in Indo-Gangetic Plains (which covers mostly Indian territory). Further, India asserted that Environmental and human factors involved in the sowing, harvesting, and processing of ‘Basmati’ has distinguished and specific characteristic as compared to rice grown in Pakistan.
It is very interesting to see how India would fight this GI battle who is very concerned about the characteristics, quality, and features of their product. As it can be evident from the fact that the Indian registry denies the GI tag to Madhya Pradesh as it failed to prove the fundamental factor required for protection as a GI. On the contrary, from Pakistan points of view granting GI status solely to Indian Basmati rice would be a hammer blow to Pakistani exporters as they were then not being entitled to export their rice with the Basmati tag. According to the European Commission export of Basmati rice from Pakistan increased by 60% in the last three years (from 2017-2019). Interestingly, in comparison with India, Pakistan has not assigned domestic GI for its Basmati rice cultivation. Overall, Pakistan had a tough job in opposing Indian GI application for Basmati rice as India was the leading exporter of the Basmati Rice to the global market with its distinguishing feature and quality.
It would be interesting to observe how the EU will deal with the registration of Basmati rice as Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). It might be possible that the EU may grant a joint GI tag to both India and Pakistan (if Pakistan success in Opposing and both the countries to file joint application) as they did to Pisco as Chilean Pisco and Peru Pisco.