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Exporting Sindhri mangoes

A couple of months ago a friend sent me an email with the following quote:

“In comparison to India, Pakistan economy is losing the advantage of gaining importance in international trade market for its products such as Sindhri Mangoes, Kinoos, Green Cardamom, Khairpur dates, Hunza Apricot, Multani Mitti, Hala Handicrafts, Khanpur Oranges, Kasuri Methi, Chiniot furniture, Sahiwal cows and buffalos, Sindhi Ajrak and cap, Sukkur Chuhara, Shikarpur pickles, Peshawari Chapli Kabab, Peshawari Ice-cream, Kashmiri Pashmina Shawls, Knives of Wazirabad, etc., which are indentified to qualify the criteria of GIs defined in international legislations. If implemented, this can be a vital source of economic development particularly pertaining to the rural areas which result in exports and eradication of poverty. Many of them have acquired valuable reputations which, if effectively protected, may be misrepresented by dishonest commercial operations”.

Notwithstanding that my friend, Uzair Rabbani, who was back then preparing a thesis on GIs and duly attached the related research methodology with his mail, was rather passionate about the subject, and notwithstanding that quite depressively, I myself am not aware that Kasuri Mehti, Multani Mitti and Sukkur Chuhara, amongst others included in the list are hot items, and notwithstanding that it took me a couple of months to get back to the email, apparently, we still have not finalised Geographical Indication (GI) laws; at least to my knowledge.

And what is the importance of GI laws and why do we need them?

Well, according to a news report, as late as March 2018, the then prime minister had “promised to resolve this long outstanding issue”, pursuant to rice exporters asking for protection against Dubai-based Indian Trading Houses buying Pakistani rice on the cheap and selling them internationally as Indian rice; taking advantage of the fact that India has already enacted the relevant GI laws. Apparently, India enacted the law way back in 1999 and implemented them in 2003, and Bangladesh has done this in 2013. Sri Lanka has also implemented GI legislation and its most famous GI registered product is Ceylon Tea, which is a major source of its foreign exchange earnings.

For the record, Uzair insisted that I write about GI laws for the attention of those in the corridors of powers on the far chance that they might just get interested in the matter; hence, he takes credit for this piece in entirety. Albeit on a lighter note, I am not sure, whether those in power ever read this column!

Irrespective, according to Rabbani’s research, we did draft the GI laws in 2001, and since then have done nothing much about it and this procrastination has resulted in economic loss of millions to Pakistan. And to venture a guess here, in the case of Basmati rice, our loss was apparently India’s gain.

Admittedly, simply enacting GI laws does not automatically provide a monopoly on selling the GI product internationally, there is the more difficult exercise of demonstrating internationally that a country’s GI products indeed qualify as identifiably originating from a specific territory, has differentiating qualities and a reliable reputation. But if you can do that, you fall in the defined concept of geographical indicators of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

And to remind those belonging to my generation, TRIPS is the agreement because of which the cheap DVD business collapsed domestically and all of us have to pay a pretty penny to watch international movies; notwithstanding my views on allowing Indian movies in Pakistani Cinema in the first place. Further education is costlier now in Pakistan since most text books and educational software are copy right protected. I may not support piracy, perhaps; however, it is bad strategy not to protect your products while submitting to everybody else’s protection mechanism. Conspiratorially, TRIPS may primarily have been conceived to extract economic benefits from developing nation’s markets; with multilateral lenders loan conditions, via structural programs, being the process through which TRIPS is imposed on such developing countries. Something similar to CPEC!?

At this point, I just cannot resist hitting out at those continuingly, and in an uninformed manner, arguing against protectionism. Everybody does it; albeit the western world does it in a formal manner and the oil rich countries of the Middle East and the economic powerhouses of Asia do it blatantly. If we don’t pursue protectionist policies, pretty soon we won’t have any industry. Irrespective of the arguments concocted in favour of free markets, they being the catalyst for efficiency and innovation, our industries are simply not sizeable enough or resourceful enough to compete with international giants.

While I am not sure why we haven’t enacted GI laws ever since drafting them in 2001, probably a because of a mess as complicated and as absurd as Kalabagh Dam, and I am also not very well informed on whether enacting such laws will indeed provide any advantage to all the products listed in Uzair’s email, however why not? Alternatively, if we don’t, it seems that we soon won’t be exporting Sindhri mangoes.

Syed Bakhtiyar Kazmi, "Exporting Sindhri mangoes," Business Recorder. 2018-10-27.
Keywords: Economics , Peshawari Chapli Kabab , Kashmiri Pashmina Shawls , Pakistan-Economy , Sindhri Mangoes , Green Cardamom , Khairpur dates , Hunza Apricot , Multani Mitti , Hala Handicrafts , Khanpur Oranges , Kasuri Methi , Chiniot furniture , Sahiwal cows- buffalos , Sindhi Ajrak- cap , Sukkur Chuhara , Shikarpur pickles , Peshawari Ice-cream , Knives Wazirabad , Kinoos