Frequent bans on Indian food products by the EU have prompted the Indian government to invite the officials of the EU Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) to let them assess the food safety standards followed by India. An EU delegation is expected to visit India in the first week of September, said an official with the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda).
Last month, Apeda had advised Indian exporters to immediately stop export of betel leaves to the EU, unless the products were tested in Apeda-approved laboratories.
Apeda said in its advisory: "There have been reports of the likelihood of betel leaves becoming the next product to be banned by the EU. Several rapid alerts have been reported. The prime reason of these rapid alerts appears to be detection of salmonella (a bacteria that causes diarrhoea and vomiting). India's annual export of betel leaves is close to $500,000 with the UK accounting for nearly 20 per cent of the exports.
Vegetables exports to the EU have fallen 30 per cent in the first four months of the current financial year, while exports of betel leaves have been negligible, said Ankush Saha, a vegetable exporter.
Among the vegetable varieties that face import ban from the EU are: Trichosanthes (snake gourd), Solanum melongena (eggplant), Momordica (bitter gourd) Colocasia (Patra leaves), and from mangoes.
In the past, the EU had raised issues about groundnut as well.
Although these vegetables account for not more than five per cent of India's total fruit and vegetable exports to the EU, in terms of value, the increased frequency of rejections of Indian products has been a dampener to India's agri-trade prospects.
India's overall vegetable exports increased 41 per cent to $506 million in 2013-14 over the previous year. The UK was the third-largest buyer of Indian vegetables in 2013-14. In terms of volume, too, the increase was nearly 20 per cent over 100,000 tonnes.
However, the export volume of vegetables to the EU has shrunk from 32,006 tonnes in 2012-13 to 30,310 tonnes in 2013-2014, a decrease of five per cent. According to the 2013 annual report of the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed in the EU, India was subject to the second-highest number of notifications for food product rejections in the EU at 257, next to China which was subject to 433 notifications.
"The continuous reports notified by the UK has prompted the adoption of a safeguard measure suspending temporary imports of paan leaves from Bangladesh and setting up reinforced checks on paan from India and Thailand," the report said.
"Indian farmers do not have adequate knowledge about the use of pesticide and chemicals. Exporters, too, do not take adequate precautions during the farming stage," said Girish Mehta, analyst at Planet Exim.
The UK is one the biggest consumers of Indian vegetables. Between 2011-12 and 2013-2014, export of fresh fruits and vegetables from India to the EU declined by seven per cent in terms of quantity, while that of dried preserved vegetables dropped 21 per cent.
"The Indian government has not done anything for resolving the export issue with the EU so far. The large number of rejections in the EU is hurting exports," said Manoj Barai of M K Exports.
The slowdown in betel leaves export is also hurting the domestic market, as wholesale prices of betel leaf fell from Rs 1,000 for 1,000 leaves to Rs 600 for 1,000 leaves in July.