India has applied for an exclusive trademark that would grant it sole ownership of the basmati rice title in the European Union. This has started a dispute that could deal a major blow to Pakistan’s position.

A report by AFP points out that Basmati, the distinctive long grain rice, has become the latest point of tussle between India and Pakistan. India has applied for an exclusive trademark that would grant it sole ownership of the basmati title in the European Union. This has started a dispute that could deal a major blow to Pakistan’s position in a vital export market. India is the largest rice exporter in the world, netting $6.8 billion in annual earnings, with Pakistan in fourth position at $2.2 billion, according to UN figures. Incidentally, the two countries are the only global exporters of basmati.

Pakistan opposed India’s move to gain Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) from the European Commission. “It’s like dropping an atomic bomb on us,” Ghulam Murtaza, co-owner of Al-Barkat Rice Mills, Lahore, was quoted saying.
“(India) has caused all this fuss over there so they can somehow grab one of our target markets,” said Murtaza, whose fields are barely five kilometres (three miles) from the Indian border. “Our whole rice industry is affected,” he said.
Pakistan has expanded basmati exports to the EU over the past three years, taking advantage of India’s difficulties meeting stricter European pesticide standards. It now fills two-thirds of the region’s approximately 300,000-ton annual demand, according to the European Commission. Malik Faisal Jahangir, Vice-President of the Pakistan Rice Exporters Association, claims Pakistani basmati is more organic and “better in quality”. Protected Geographical Indication status grants intellectual property rights for products linked to a geographic area where at least one stage of production, processing, or preparation takes place.

As per EU rules, the two countries must try to negotiate an amicable resolution by September, after India asked for a three-month extension, a spokesman for the European Commission told AFP. “Historically, both the reputation and geographic area (for basmati) are common to India and Pakistan,” says legal researcher Delphine Marie-Vivien. “There have already been quite a few cases of opposition to geographical indication applications in Europe, and each time a compromise has been found.” Pakistan hopes to convince India to instead submit a “joint application” in the name of the common heritage that basmati represents, Jahangir said.