The two nations have a long history of bitter rows, most prominently over the border of Kashmir, which both countries claim to fully control. In reality, however, India and Pakistan only control parts of the region, in a feud which dates back before both countries reclaimed their independence from the UK in 1947. In recent times, the lengths each country went to as they bid to ensure the other was negatively viewed was exposed by EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based group that works on the sharing of misinformation and propaganda.
In September, it revealed a huge network of Indian fake media outlets publishing anti-Pakistan content, with more than 500 such portals uncovered.
The materials were published across 15 years in 116 countries, the group found, with many examples discovered throughout the EU and the United Nations.
Yet a new row began to develop that had the EU at its heart, as India laid claim to solely providing the bloc with basmati rice.
Brussels’ rules dictate that zero tariffs are applied on rice imported into the EU, as long as they have been “authenticated by either Pakistani or Indian authorities as genuine basmati”.
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India, which provides around two-thirds of all EU basmati imports, applied to ensure the bloc recognised India as exclusively growing the long-grained rice.
Outraged Pakistan warned it would “vehemently oppose” the plan, sparking another row between the two neighbouring nations.
Within its application, India argued for the rights to the sole geographical indication (GI) status for the product, adding: “The special characteristic of basmati is grown and produced in all districts of the state of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, as well as in specific districts of western Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.”
The GI mark is used by the EU to ensure customers enjoy products’ “qualities, reputation or characteristics relating to its place of origin”.
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It protects products including Parma ham, champagne and stilton cheese, and allows producers to charge a higher price due to its authenticity.
Abdul Razak Dawood, an adviser to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, confirmed an objection was submitted after claiming the country would “vehemently oppose” the application.
He added on Twitter in December: “I wish to inform that Pakistan has filed its opposition against the Indian application to European Commission for granting exclusive rights on the use of Basmati for its rice exports to European Union.
“We assure the rice community that we will defend our case with due diligence and commitment.”
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It isn’t the first time India has used an application to ramp up its prices, as ten years ago it was able to protect Darjeeling tea after West Bengal was given the rights to carry its name.
Pakistan, which provides the remaining one third of basmati rice to the bloc, and its rice industry could be devastated should the application be approved, the Rice Exporters of Pakistan argued.
A spokesperson added: “Basmati could not be allowed to be monopolised by India in the European market.
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“Such gross misrepresentation by India on the origins of Basmati is an attack on the values of fair competition among farmers and exporters in the EU.
“Pakistan has a legal right to export Basmati with its original name in accordance with the practice in the EU which is decades old.”
Exports of basmati rice from Pakistan to the EU had more than doubled between 2017 and 2019, the European Commission said, with 300,000 metric tonnes being supplied.
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India’s own exports however have shrunk, as The Guardian reports it has failed to meet the EU’s standards of foods by using pesticides.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the European Commission said in October: “The Commission has published the application for registration of the name ‘basmati’ from India as a proposed protected geographical indication. This publication gives the opportunity for stakeholders to lodge oppositions for a three-month period.
“This publication does not imply the registration of ‘basmati’ but is a step in the standard geographical indication registration procedure. The final decision on registration is only taken after the opposition phase has been completed. This allows the rights of all parties to be respected in the registration process.
“If an opposition is received from any party, the Commission will ensure it is examined in line with standing procedures, ensuring the rights of all parties are scrupulously respected.”
Pakistan is now awaiting the next steps in its objection process.