Yen for ecofriendly grain

INDIAN exporters had pinned their hopes on gaining entry into the Japanese rice market in the wake of the compulsory opening up under GATT. But the Japanese Food Agency has recently communicated that they would consider placing India in their shopping list only if its rice were free from harmful chemical residues. The announcement followed the recent visit of the trade delegation from the All India Rice Exporters Association (AIREA) to explore the possibility of exporting basmati rice to Japan.

Under the GATT agreement, Japan will have to import 4 per cent of its total consumption, which is estimated to be more than 3.8 lakh tonne in 1995. Japan has already opened its market to the US, Australia, Thailand and China. According to sources in the Japanese embassy, safety standards in these countries were analysed by the Japanese government and trading companies.

V K Bhasin, executive director of AIREA, is confident that Indian exporters can meet any standards. He says, "Exporters are aware that stocks with excessive chemical residues will not be accepted. The problem is in educating the farmers. But spreading the awareness will have to be a joint effort by the government and the exporters."

Bhasin adds that the pressure on Indian rice exporters to use pesticides judiciously has been building up for the past few years as European countries also want to go for the ecofriendly grain. Japan, however, is insisting on specific tests to detect blacklisted pesticides. If India gets the green signal, exporters will have to get their samples cleared from the Overseas Merchandise Inspection Committee of Japan.

Indian exporters are, however, not sure about the acceptability of basmati because consumer choice in Japan is biased towards the Japonica variety of sticky and non-aromatic rice. Initially, they hope to gain entry through the 400-odd Indian restaurants in Japan by organising sampling parties. The AIREA delegation to Japan has also proposed joint ventures for the cultivation of Japonica in India on a 100 per cent buy back basis.