From Biryani to Pulao, the general culinary landscape of Pakistan and India is characterized by basmati, a distinctive long-grain rice that is now at the center of the latest brawl between bitter rivals.
India has applied for a unique trademark, which in the EU will entitle it to the exclusive title of Basmati, sparking a dispute that could hit Pakistan hard on its position in a key export market.
“It’s like dropping an atomic bomb on us,” said Gulam Murtaza, co-owner of Al-Barkat Rice Mills, just south of Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city.
Pakistan immediately opposes India’s move to get a Geographical Protection Index (PGI) from the European Commission.
India is the largest exporter of rice in the world, earning $ 6.8 billion a year, according to the UN, Pakistan is in fourth place with $ 2.2 billion.
Both countries are the only global exporters of basmati.
“(India) has made all that noise there so that they can somehow capture one of our target markets,” said Murtaza, whose fields are barely five kilometers (three miles) from the Indian border.
“Our entire rice industry has been affected,” he added.
From Karachi to Calcutta, basmati is a staple of the daily diet in South Asia.
It is eaten with spicy meat, along with vegetable curry, is the star of endless variety of beer dishes, presented at weddings and celebrations in both countries, which were separated only after the independence of the British colony in 1947.
Since then, they have fought in three large-scale wars, most recently in 2019 in connection with the first cross-border air strikes in 50 years.
Diplomatic relations have been strained for decades, with both countries regularly trying to abuse each other in the international arena.
“A very strong market”
Over the past three years, Pakistan has expanded its basmati exports to the EU, taking advantage of India’s difficulties in meeting strict European standards for pesticides.
According to the European Commission, it now meets two thirds of the region’s annual demand of around 300,000 tonnes.
“This is a very, very strong market for us,” said Malik Faisal Hang Ahangir, vice president of the Pakistan Rice Exporters Association, who said Pakistani basmati was “more organic” and “better”.
PGI status grants intellectual property rights to products related to a geographic area where at least one stage of production, processing or manufacturing takes place.
Indian Darjeeling tea, coffee from Colombia քանի Some French hams are some of the most popular PGI products.
It differs from the protected meaning of Prot agma, which requires all three stages to take place in the region, as in the case of cheeses such as French brioche or Italian gorgonzola.
Such products are legally protected against imitation և abuse in countries covered by the protection agreement, and the seal of recognition of quality allows them to be sold at higher prices.
India says in its application it does not claim to be the only producer of distinctive rice grown in the Himalayan foothills, but obtaining PGI status will nevertheless grant it this recognition.
“India and Pakistan have been competing for healthy exports and healthy competition in different markets for almost 40 years … I do not think PGI will change that,” Vijay Setia, former president of the Indian Rice Exporters Association, told AFP.
According to EU rules, the two countries should try to negotiate a peace resolution by September, after India demanded a three-month period, the European Commission spokesman told AFP.
“Historically, prestige and geography (for basmati) are common in India and Pakistan,” said Dolphin Marie-Vivienne, a lawyer-researcher.
“There have already been several cases in Europe of countering geographical indications, each time compromising.”
After years of delays, the Pakistani government demarcated in January where basmati could be harvested in the country.
It also announced that such a protected status would provide pink Himalayan salt to other noisy agricultural products.
Pakistan hopes to persuade India to submit a “joint application” in the name of the common heritage represented by the Basmat, instead, Jahangir said.
“I am sure that we will reach a (positive) conclusion very soon: the world knows that basmati comes from both countries,” he added.
If no agreement is reached, ևThe EU will rule in favor of India, Pakistan can go to European courts, but the lengthy review process could leave its rice industry in limbo.