The Union Environment Ministry's directive to the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) to stop any import of genetically modified (GM) soybean and seed without its approval could have limited impact unless curbs are also placed on the plant quarantine authority and the customs department, business sources said.
Officials and industry sources said though import of soybean and soy seeds attract a high import duty of around 45 per cent, traders have over recent years been routing their consignments through African nations, particularly Ethiopia and Benin, to take advantage of a nil tariff on that avenue. India allows duty-free import of some commodities from a few African nations in the category of Least Development Countries.
"In a year, around 80,000 tonnes of soybean and seed have been imported into India illegally through this method but just asking the DGFT to seek permission before allowing these won't solve the problem," a senior industry official said.
India does not permit cultivation of GM soybean. Trade sources said that unless its import is checked, the seeds might pass on to farmers, who will then cultivate it. "Then, its proliferation can't be stopped," an official said. The new restriction will not impact soy oil import, already exempt from GM rules.
India imports around 15 million tonnes of edible oils in the 2016-17 oil marketing year that ended in October. Of this, soybean oil was around 3.4 mt.