Minister slammed on Indian pea duty

Ottawa has been far too silent about India suddenly slapping a 50 percent duty on pea imports, says a pulse crop analyst.

Marlene Boersch, managing partner with Mercantile Consulting Venture, said federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay has been conspicuously quiet about Canada being blocked out of its top yellow pea market.

“Where the hell is our agriculture minister? Is he in existence? Does he know about this? Does he care?” she said.

“I can’t believe he is not even on the surface.”

She wonders how India can get away with slapping a hefty duty on product that was already in transit to India.

“Normally in the trade that is not being done,” said Boersch.

She said that is “hugely damaging” to exporters.

“I know there is some cargo already rerouted to China that needs to be sold. That’s a very ugly situation.”

A spokesperson for minister MacAulay said the government is fully aware of the issue and actively working on a resolution.

“Our government is deeply concerned and disappointed with the recent regulatory and tariff decisions made by the government of India, affecting Canadian pulse trade,” Oliver Anderson said in an email.

Trade minister Francois-Philipe Champagne recently led a trade mission to India where the tariff issue was “raised at every opportunity” with Indian officials.

Meanwhile, MacAulay is leading one of the largest Canadian agricultural trade missions to China in an attempt to expand sales to that important customer.

MacAulay was also taken to task in the House of Commons by Conservative MP John Barlow, who accused the minister of inaction and said he has been pushed to the sidelines, staying at home during the recent trade mission to India while three of his ministerial colleagues attended.

“When will the prime minister appoint a minister of agriculture Canadian farmers can trust will be at the table fighting for them?” he said.

MacAulay responded that the tariff had nothing to do with the Canadian government.

“We are fully aware of the importance of the export of lentils to India, but it was a decision that was made by the Indian government and we are working with the government of India to attempt to resolve this,” he said.

Gord Bacon, chief executive officer of Pulse Canada, said the India trade mission has opened the door for collaboration on a long-term approach to pulse trade.

In an email statement Bacon said Canada’s pulse exporters need transparency on how and when duties are applied, increased or decreased.

He also said phytosanitary policies such as those governing the use of fumigants need to be country-specific, science-based assessments reflecting the degree of risk of introduction of pests of concern.

Last week, India upped the ante by lifting an 11-year ban on pulse exports. So in addition to paying a hefty tax, there will be additional competition in the export markets that remain open.

One analyst said India expects to sell 500,000 tonnes of pulses abroad.

Boersch isn’t overly concerned about exports out of India.

“There will be a little trade to the neighboring countries. Some of that can make sense transportation-wise. But other than that, no, I don’t think it’s a big deal,” she said.

India may not be done slapping duties on crops. Last week it raised tariffs on a wide variety of vegetable oils as well as soybeans.

“We haven’t heard about the lentil tariff yet, which I think will come as well,” said Boersch.

“What is that going to do?”

India is in the midst of seeding its chickpea and lentil crops, and planting is well ahead of last year’s pace and the long-term average.

A high-ranking Indian government official recently told The Hindu BusinessLine that the country is nearing self-sufficiency in pulse production.

India harvested a record 22.95 million tonnes of pulses last year, after years of producing 17 to 18 million tonnes annually.

Many people thought last year was an anomaly, but union agriculture secretary S.K. Pattanayak told the BusinessLine that pulse output will exceed 22 million tonnes again in 2017-18.

Annual pulse consumption is about 24 million tonnes.

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