Australia has decided to deny the Geographical Indicator (GI) tag to the Indian Basmati Rice on the grounds that it is “not grown only in India.”
Australia is a party to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which mandates protection for geographical indications.
Mr Vivek Dahiya, an Adelaide-based Intellectual Property expert and strategist, told The Australia Today:
“one can EASILY find at least 16 registered trademarks having ‘Basmati’ as one of the element in their name and most of them having origin from India itself.”
Mr Dahiya adds that countries should take intellectual property-related issues seriously. He suggests forming a dedicated IP task force with strategists and experts to fight their cases abroad.
India’s Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) is the authority that promotes exports and takes care of GI registration for Indian products abroad.
Mr Madhaiyaan Angamuthu, Chairman – APEDA, who had filed an appeal before the Federal Court of Australia on 1 February 2023 on the use of GI tag for Basmati, said in a statement:
“It is an ongoing process and we will appeal again. This will not have any impact on our trade as such.”
GI tags are given to a certain product, man-made or natural owing to its distinct and unique character, nature, and qualities possessed by it, thus providing the status of being endemic to that particular region and hence found or made nowhere else.
India is officially the largest producer and exporter of Basmati rice accounting for 70% of the world’s supply. Basmati rice has been grown in India for many centuries and is an unalienable part of Indian cultural cuisine and celebrations. For the uninitiated, India has 34 identified varieties of basmati rice that includes the famous Dehraduni, Punjab, Kasturi, Mahi Sugandha, Pusa, Basmati 217, Basmati 370, and Taraori basmati.
In 2017, India was given the GI Tag for Basmati rice from the Indian Patent Office (IPO). In February 2019, India filed an application in Australia and following the rejection of the application for Basmati’s name and logo, moved to the Federal Court of Australia in appeal and hopes it will succeed in its efforts.
Indian and Pakistan were locked into an intellectual property dispute over the ownership of Basmati rice. However, at the recent hearing, Australian authorities didn’t support India’s cause.
Experts believe that this can be a result of either Australia’s ignorance regarding Indian agricultural tradition or a malicious attempt at lobbying by Pakistan.
India is facing a special challenge from a bankrupt Pakistan as experts add that it wishes to ride on India’s prosperity and goodwill on the world stage by seeking a ‘joint GI tag’ for Basmati rice. As Basmati rice is the most important cash crops of Pakistan, with its contribution to Pakistan’s GDP being 0.7%.
A joint GI tag has never been done and is also contrary to the convention of giving GI tags. Expert observes that the task is to ensure the supply of standardized genuine basmati rice in both the domestic and export markets. In India, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has the ability to do so and in Pakistan it is questionable!
By insisting on any non-existence of special characteristics in basmati rice that can distinguish its certification from other rice, experts say Australian authorities have erred. Now, any unscrupulous producers or distributors from any country could mislabel rice as ‘Basmati’.
Mr Srinivasan Chandrasekaran, an Agri Trade expert and author of book ‘Basmati Rice’, told local media:
“Australia contends that rice growers outside of India have an equally valid claim to use the term ‘basmati’. The interpretation of the reputation of GI products by Australian authorities is the thinking of the new world.”
A geopolitical strategy expert told The Australia Today that the recent decision of Australia could also be described as an attempt to politicize the India-Pakistan rivalry for gaining strategic leverage.
Mr Chandrasekaran adds:
“The current rejection of Basmati GI tag by Australia is a missed opportunity by India to incorporate Basmati rice GI protection in the first round. India needs to take this up in the second stage.”
The top three exporters of Basmati rice are India with 783,151 shipments followed by Pakistan with 28,884 and China at the third spot with 5,278 shipments. Of India’s total Basmati rice exports, Australia’s share is a little over 1 per cent.
Earlier, a similar clash of IP between India and Pakistan was seen in the case of Pashmina fabric which is endemic to Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). India succeeded in securing a GI Tag.