By Nayanima Basu, IANS
New Delhi : India needs stricter regulations on food products and effective mechanisms to check compliance to standards in order to avoid large-scale rejection of its exports in key markets like the US, experts maintain.
During the first six months of this year, 1,763 food shipments from India were rejected by the US. The products ranged from spices and seeds to shrimps and drugs since they allegedly contained salmonella and other hazardous material.
China, too, faced similar rejection of its exports, with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sending back 1,368 shipments from the country.
"We need to put in place effective standards not only for exports but also for domestic requirements if we wish to push food exports as a thrust sector," said Ganesh Kumar Gupta, president, Federation of Indian Exports Organisation (FIEO).
"The system of random examination of such consignments needs to be followed effectively," Gupta, who heads the umbrella organisation for the exporting community, affiliated to the commerce ministry, told IANS.
He said the rejection of so many shipments was a cause for concern and there was an urgent need to examine what went wrong, adding such rejections can also cause irreversible damage to the country's exports in other markets.
"Only a full analysis will reveal if the shipments were inspected by nominated agencies before shipment. If so, it will be a setback to our inspection process and may raise the issue of whether standards are being followed in our country."
Experts said India did not lack the necessary laws to ensure that food standards conform to international standards. The need of the hour was a strong and independent regulatory mechanism to oversee their implementation.
"India is increasingly producing better quality goods. But there is a lack of information amongst exporters about sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures," said J.J. Boillot, former financial counsellor with the French embassy.
"Emerging countries deploy local authorities for inspection that are not always well equipped to understand the finer points of conformity to global standards," said Boillot, who has also been an advisor with the French finance ministry.
Pradeep S. Mehta, director general of Delhi-based think tank and consumer forum CUTS, said if such rejections continued, it will impact the Indian economy that has a large dependence on exports, targeted at $160 billion for this fiscal.
"All that we need to strictly follow is compliance, coupled with enforcement. We should check on what we manufacture. We just can't keep producing goods that keep getting rejected over quality," Mehta added.
According to Sandra Polaski, senior associate and director of trade, equity, and development programme with the Carnegie Endowment, ensuring safety and integrity of food products was an important role of the government and the regulators.
"This is all the more important in food, medicines and other products since they have the potential to harm health. Companies must have legal responsibility to comply with these regulations," Polaski told IANS.
Commerce ministry officials said the government was in the process of revamping the regulatory framework in the food sector and was seeking recognition for its certification agencies from trading partners for easier access to their markets.
Amit Mitra, secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), said the overhaul of the regulatory framework was welcome but there should be reciprocal arrangements with trading partners as well.
"The US and the EU have very high standards to meet. I think the regulatory bodies of these two markets should open offices in India, especially at places wherefrom large shipments are send out, for proper pre-shipment certification."