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Clarity sought on food safety

Health ministry blocked huge consignments of cheese and chocolates from Europe

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The (EU) has raised concern on the implementation of under the and Standards Act, as this will hit imports of food products from that region.

Joao Cravinho, EU’s ambassador to India, has written to the Centre, seeking clarity on the rules. This follows the health ministry blocking huge consignments of cheese and chocolates from Europe, as these didn’t adhere to the packaging and labelling norms. “The food safety concerns are legitimate. We have no issues about that. We need to find a manner in which these issues can be addressed, without prejudicing trade. Otherwise, these could constitute non-tariff barriers,” Cravinho said on Tuesday.

Last month, the Food Safety and Standard Authority under the health ministry had blocked consignments of about 200 tonnes of imported cheese, chocolates and other food items. This had led to a controversy.

Under the new norms, pasting stickers to categorise products as vegetarian or non-vegetarian aren’t enough; the product cover should be printed with the details.

Cravinho said there was no request from the Indian government to reconsider its decision to end the preferential tariff system for imports from India. A new generalised system of preferences is being introduced, under which exports of certain products from India, including textiles, chemicals, and leather goods, will attract a higher tariff. “I have not received any request from the government and am not aware of any such demand. I met the commerce secretary on Monday and this issue was not discussed,” Cravinho said.

India and the EU are negotiating a free trade agreement since June 2007. Both sides have missed several deadlines to conclude the talks, owing to differences on the extent to which the markets will be opened up. While India is demanding data-secure status, the EU demands easing of foreign direct investment in the insurance sector.

Cravinho said the issue of data-secure status wasn’t linked to the free trade agreement. “It cannot be linked. Data protection is a fundamental right in Europe and cannot be negotiated,” he said, adding Europe was keen to work with India on the matter and there was a plan to set up technical groups to study the issue.

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