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India, EU spat over buffalo meat exports

M.R. Subramani

Chennai , Oct. 25

INDIA and the European Union (EU) seem to be headed for another confrontation on the trade front, going by the detention of 45 containers of buffalo meat by the authorities of EU and Germany at Hamburg port a week ago.

"They are consignments in transit. It is nothing new. Consignments from here to Eastern Europe and West Africa pass through one of the ports of countries that are members of EU," said official sources. They suspect that EU has launched some sort of witch-hunting since the country's buffalo meat exports have made rapid strides during the last few years. Indian buffalo meat imports are banned in EU nations due to existence of foot-and-mouth disease in the cattle here. Though the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda) has a voluntary measure to check such exports, the EU is not convinced. This is because the process of issuing health certificates for such shipments is handled by the Animal Husbandry Departments of the State Governments.

"We are the fifth largest exporter of buffalo meat. We have become very competitive in the global market and that has unnerved them. As a result, they are trying to find an excuse to deny access to our meat products," said the sources.

During 2003-04, buffalo meat exports were over three lakh tonnes worth Rs 1,600 crore against shipments of 2.97 lakh tonnes valued at Rs 1,305 crore the previous year.

According to media reports from Germany, inspections by authorities showed that the shipments were bound for Russia with fake labels and health certificates. The labels and certificates said the meat was from Australia or Brazil. The shipments totalled 3,000 tonnes.

Apeda authorities declined comment. However, official sources said: "We don't think any of our well established exporters would have done this. We have to see if any of our fly-by-night operators are involved. As such, we have no direct buffalo meat trade with Russia and we don't know how this is happening."

Authorities of the Delhi Government issued the health certificate, the sources said. "But the State Government authorities claim they have not issued it."

While officials in Germany are crying foul and alleging that it is "a new dimension in food trade fraud," official sources here said a probe had been launched by Apeda to find out the facts.

"Even we think this is some sort of fraud. We have launched investigations and Apeda is looking into the whole gamut of this issue," they said.

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