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Eyes on India: How changes in domestic policy mean market access challenges for global pulse trade


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Mac Ross, Director, Market Access and Trade Policy, Pulse Canada

As the pulse industry work towards its goal of having 25 percent of Canadian pulse production going into new uses and new markets by 2025, it is critical to continue to address trade barriers in the markets on which Canada relies. The bulk of Canadian pulse exports go to a small number of markets. In 2019 alone, more than 60 percent of our exports went to the Indian subcontinent and China.

Over the past two years, growers and the Canadian industry have continued to feel the pinch from trade barriers into key markets. Not only are there barriers facing pulses going into India, but also for durum to Italy and canola to China, among others. While these issues may follow a similar protectionist theme and the effects in the industry have been similar, the context behind each issue can be quite different.

In India, the market access situation is being felt by countries around the world. The restrictions on pulses going into the Indian market are global in nature and refer to pulses in general, regardless of origin.

Since 2016, India has had an extremely strong political mandate to “double its farmers’ income” by the year 2022. One of the goals is to achieve self-sufficiency in pulse production. As an incentive, India has continually increased the Minimum Support Price offered to their pulse growers. This has been accompanied by a number of restrictive trade measures on pulses going into India.

These restrictive measures can be broken into two buckets — technical barriers, which include fumigation requirements and weed seeds, and import policy. Starting in 2017, India began imposing tariffs on the import of peas, lentils and chickpeas and applying those equally to all origins, with the exception of the U.S., which currently faces slightly higher tariffs on chickpeas and lentils. Along with tariffs, pulse supplying countries like Canada have faced additional restrictions such as quantitative import restrictions on a number of pulse crops, most notably on peas.

On the technical barriers, Canada continues to seek a technical solution and reach an agreement based on a demonstrated ability to supply pulses that comply with India’s plant health requirements. While Canada continues to work towards a bilateral agreement with India on plant protection, Pulse Canada is marshalling a global response to improve the predictability and transparency of pulse import policy.

Since these issues are global in nature, the Global Pulse Confederation (GPC) has partnered with NAFED, a government agency in India involved in domestic agricultural policy, to work towards improving access for pulses. Pulse Canada held a joint GPC-NAFED event and policy workshop with industry and Government of India officials in New Delhi in February. The goal of this meeting, which took place on World Pulses Day on February 10, was to ensure that as India strives to meet its domestic policy goals of increased production and consumption of pulses, it is done in a predictable and transparent trading environment. This would allow pulse-producing countries like Canada to augment India’s domestic programs with imports when needed and enable growers in Canada to make the best planting and marketing decisions.

It is very important for Canada to work with other pulse producing countries to address these market access issues. Even with the current state of barriers to the pulse trade with India, there are tremendous opportunities there. Pulses remain the most affordable source of protein for India’s growing population, a third of which is vegetarian, and no country has demonstrated an ability to supply India with safe, nutritious food year in and year out like Canada. In 2019, India returned as Canada’s top export market for lentils, even with a 33 percent tariff. India remains a key market for Canadian pulses and working towards resolving the market access issues will continue to be a top priority for the Canadian pulse industry in 2020.