Ginger politics

Published On: January 25, 2018 02:00 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

Indian ban on Nepali ginger

It has been several weeks since India stopped buying Nepali ginger, again. Nepal produced 246,630 metric tons of ginger in the last fiscal year. Over 80 percent of Nepali ginger is exported to India. Since the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the Indian side has imposed five percent tax on imported processed ginger but fresh ginger does not have to pay the tax. After the imposition of tax, the traders have to pay at least Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 to pass one truck of ginger through the customs check-point. Moreover, India is now drafting a law to also ban the import of fresh ginger from Nepal. This has direct impact on the lives of thousands of farmers in eastern Nepal who depend on ginger export to India for their livelihood. However, this is not the first time India has banned Nepali ginger into its market. Nepali ginger was stranded for over three weeks last year at the Nepal-India border in the pretext of malfunctioning computer server last year. In a meeting with Nepali officials last year, Indian officials had admitted that there is huge domestic pressure to ban Nepali ginger from local farmers and business community. 

Nepali ginger occupies negligible ginger market share in India. Nepali authorities wait for the last minute negotiations with the Indian side whenever issues like this one occur. Our response mechanism must be prompt and effective so that the farmers do not have to suffer. Moreover, we also need to add value to our export items. No other country in the world allows unwashed ginger to be exported, but we have been exporting exactly that to India. A 60 million rupees ginger washing plant in Duwagadhi, Jhapa is sitting idle for years now. Our ginger can be washed, dried and packaged and could be exported to third countries as well. It is high time that our export stop depending on India alone for the market, and we have to actively seek out other international market opportunities. 

There is always the risk when a country depends too deeply on one country for businesses. It is high time that we look beyond India to not only sell our produced goods but also in buying goods. We must take rather unfortunate incidents like this one to upgrade our exported items so that it can find alternative and lucrative market elsewhere as well. While it is convenient for us to point fingers to India for the current ginger fiasco, we must also prepare for the alternatives and shape our economy accordingly. It is necessary for the officials of the two countries to sit together and sort out the issues amicably. At a time when the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) from both India and Nepal are working to sort out all thorny issues to further improve Nepal-India ties, incidents like these should not be allowed to take place so as to create the impression that cross-border trade with India is still not hassle-free.  

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