It was a recent news which appeared in India that Rs 25000 crore worth of imported foods were lying in various ports in the country for want of clearance by the food safety authorities on technical grounds. Unfortunately in the name of food safety these food products with definitive expiry dates are being allowed to be lost with benefit neither to the importers nor to the consumers. There is a feeling that such large scale detention of imported foods may be a sort of protectionism rearing its ugly head all over the world either due to local food lobbies seeking protection from low cost products into the country and can be theoretically considered as TBT-technical barrier to trade which WTO does not allow. But it could also be a genuine problem of transient nature which government of India must address immediately. This reminds one of the happenings in the Italy-Austria borders in December last when farmer interests from Italy blocked flow of food products into their country alleging that the reputation of Italian brand was being destroyed by cheap imitations and raw ingredients which are processed in their country before labeling as Italian made! Look at the incongruity of the situation by reading the excerpts of report referred below:
Thousands of Italian farmers blocked the Brenner Pass at the border with Austria on Wednesday, protesting against food piracy and import of raw food ingredients of low quality. Agricultural association Coldiretti claimed the so-called"false Italian food" (i.e. food made with foreign ingredients, but branded as Italian) is badly damaging the traditional agricultural and food production in Italy."Many products are partially or totally made with ingredients coming from abroad, but since they are assembled or processed in our country they can be sold as 'Italian foods', and this ruins our original production," Rolando Manfredini, quality manager with Coldiretti explained to Xinhua. This allegedly unfair competition has resulted in the closing of around 140 thousand agricultural businesses between 2007 and 2013, according to figures released by Coldiretti and Unioncamere, the Association of the Italian Chambers of Commerce. Around 32.500 cattle sheds and farming businesses have disappeared just in 2013, with a loss of 36 thousand jobs in the farmlands, they said.
WTO is supposed to ensure free flow of trade across borders with least barriers and there are adequate provisions for preventing cheap products being dumped in any country which can have adverse impact on the domestic industry. Europeans should not forget that they belong to a unified country group with practically no borders and if this is so the stand taken by Italian traders cannot be justified. While Italy has every right to oversee the quality of products entering its territory, the excuse that raw ingredients coming into Italy for conversion into value added products harms its interests will not stand critical scrutiny. There is another tendency which is emerging in some wealthy countries trying to declare on the label the country of origin boldly so that consumers can shun products from some countries and in the name of patriotism citizens are forced to buy locally made products. When responsibility for the safety of any food product imported rests with the importing company with valid license, where is this need for declaration separately the country of origin? More over products imported into any country must conform to that country's standards and safety bar. WTO must truly work to ensure that the world really works as a global village with no barriers to honest trade.