RS Sodhi (pictured), managing director of the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), which owns and markets the ubiquitous Amul brand of dairy products, sent an open letter to Minister Anand Sharma.
In it he said: "Amul has strongly opposed to provide any kind of advantage in import duty on dairy products falling under chapter 4 of HSN." Sodhi was referring to India’s harmonised system product classification code for “edible products of animal origin”.
The EU does not currently permit the import of dairy products from India on the grounds of “sanitary and phyto-sanitary” (SPS) measures. It claims that Indian milch animals are not kept up to EU standards, and accordingly Indian dairy products are not safe for consumption.
Discussions on finalising a free-trade agreement between India and the EU have been taking place over the last six years, and both sides expect to be able to close negotiations by the summer.
"Interestingly, the EU also subsidises their milk farmers by giving incentives on the export of their dairy products that actually make their products cheaper than the cost,” wrote Sodhi.
“So the EU wants to export such subsidised dairy products to India considering India as a very large and growing market, without giving access to the Indian dairy products to its own market with large NRI population."
He added that EU demands also reveal that the bloc wants geographical identification (GI) protection of some of its cheeses, like Gouda, Feta and Emmenthal, meaning that Indian cheese producers cannot give these registered names to their own cheeses.
At the same time, he argued, there had been no talk of protecting indigenous Indian dairy products like paneer and lassi in the EU market.
“Essentially, the EU is asking India to give more monopoly protection in areas like GIs where it has more intellectual property,” Sodhi complained.
“This will cost Indian consumers, who will have to pay higher prices, and Indian producers, who will no longer be able to clearly identify their products, and who are still in a nascent stage of agro food processing industry.”
Reminding Minister Sharma of the 80m Indian farmers dependent on the dairy business, Sodhi concluded by urging him to be extremely cautious in its negotiations while also protecting India’s interests very strongly at the table.
“The EU is actually anticipating huge market opportunity in India once the comprehensive free trade agreement is ratified,” he said.