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Relaxed phytosanitary rules lead to surge in onion imports, help lower prices

Date: 11-12-2019
Subject: Relaxed phytosanitary rules lead to surge in onion imports, help lower prices
PUNE: The Central government’s decision to relax pest and disease-control measures on onion imports led to a surge in imports of the vegetable this week, helping reduce their wholesale prices by 20% to 25%.

Average onion prices at most markets in Maharashtra declined by Rs 10-20/kg on Monday and Tuesday and settled at Rs 60-70/kg. The arrival of the kharif harvest has also started gaining momentum.

The agriculture ministry extended the relaxation in fumigation treatment conditions for the import of onions to January 15, 2020, on December 4. Prior to that, domestic onion prices had crossed Rs 100/kg, with traders claiming that meeting the phytosanitary conditions and the associated paperwork took a long time, delaying imports.

At a meeting called by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade, traders assured officials that fears of foreign pests and disease impacting domestic onion crops due to relaxed phytosanitary norms were unfounded. The traders said farmers wouldn’t be interested in buying expensive imported onions, which were also inferior to domestic varieties, for sowing purposes.

The government agreed to relax the phytosanitary conditions after taking an undertaking from traders that imported onions would be sold only for consumption and not for propagation.

“About 200 containers of 30 tonnes each are already on the way to reach Mumbai port this week, while another 200 containers are being loaded to reach India,” said Ajit Shah, an onion trader in Mumbai.

Onions from countries including Egypt and Turkey, now available in Dubai and Sri Lanka, are being shipped from there to India, given their proximity.

“Had the relaxation of phytosanitary norms come earlier, onion prices in India would not have crossed Rs 50/kg levels. Sri Lanka, which is mostly dependent only on the imported onions, has managed to keep its onion prices within Rs 40-60/kg,” said Shah.

He added that a timely policy decision would have made imported onions cheaper by $300/tonne because they could have been bought directly from Egypt or Turkey.

Traders said 10 to 15 trucks of onions from Afghanistan were reaching the Wagah border daily.

The arrival of the kharif crop, though 50% to 70% lower than a year earlier, is expected to increase consistently. Gondal market near Rajkot in Gujarat had to be closed for three days starting Monday because it did not have the capacity to handle the heavy inflow of onions.

Source: economictimes.indiatimes.com

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