Auqib Javeed | Kashmir Observer
Srinagar: The decision of the Union government to relax 20% customs duty on apples imported from the United States has come as a shocker for the fruit traders in Jammu and Kashmir amidst the apple harvesting season in full swing.
In June, the U.S and India agreed to terminate six outstanding disputes at the World Trade Organization. Also, India agreed to reduce tariffs on certain US products, including chickpeas, lentils, almonds, walnuts, apples, boric acid, and diagnostic reagents. The announcement was made by GOI a few days after the G-20 summit in the national capital.
The apple growers argue that they have faced a lot of problems due to the 2019 shutdown and the covid-19 lockdown, and now the further reduction of import duties from U.S products will hit their business hard.
The horticulture sector plays an important role in the Union Territory and contributes significantly to its economy. In 2019, Kashmir produced about 1.9 million metric tons of apples, the highest in the country.
According to government figures, horticulture is a source of livelihood for 33 lakh people. About seven lakh families are directly or indirectly involved and depend on this sector.
The UT has been declared as an Agri Export Zone for apples and walnuts.
Bashir Ahmad Bashir, president of the All Valley Fruit Growers and Dealers Association (AVFGDA), the leading association of apple growers and traders in Kashmir, told Kashmir Observer that the government needs to reconsider the decision taking into consideration the losses the farmers will suffer.
“This will not only hit apple growers of Kashmir but those from Himachal, Uttarakhand and other states as well,” Bashir said.
He further said “Allowing free entry for into the Indian market will be catastrophic for apple growers in Kashmir”
Earlier, the apple growers maintained that a large quantity of Iranian apples would flood Indian markets, which ultimately was hitting the Kashmiri apple’s market share.
The growers claim that the free trade agreement (FTA) was being misused under the trade name of Afghan apple.
It may be noted that both Afghanistan and India are members of the South Asian Free Trade Zone (SAFTA) and hence they do not impose duty on imports from each other. However, Iran is not part of SAFTA but apples from there reach India via Afghanistan, bypassing import duties and taking the benefit from it.
“We were yet to convince the government to ban import of Iranian apples now this has happened,” Fayaz Ahmad Malik, president of Sopore Fruit Mandi, told Kashmir Observer.
He said, every year the orchardists and the traders have to face the challenges in one way or another.
In May this year, the central Government introduced Minimum Important Price (MIP) for apples—which barred apples from other countries without tax. However, the relaxation of customs duty on U.S products has left orchardists in the Kashmir Valley in deep anxiety.
Manzoor Ahmad Mir, an apple grower from North Kashmir’s Sopore told Kashmir Observer that the American apple growers are provided huge subsidies by the government while the growers from Kashmir don’t have such options.
“I think they (Govt) wants to cripple the apple industry in Kashmir,”