UK condemns Indian customs move to hold food imports

UK condemns Indian customs move to hold food imports

A move from Indian customs officials to hold containers of food being imported into the country at the docks is "utter nonsense", according to UK Food Secretary Owen Paterson.

Indian officials are detaining containers of food being transported into the country after labelling regulations were revised while the goods were in transit.

Waitrose, the UK retailer and food processor, has warned it is "one of many" international firms that have seen products blocked from entering the country.

Speaking yesterday (12 December) at a conference organised by the UK Food and Drink Exporters Association, Paterson said he "understands frustrations" about "changes to the rules in export markets", especially when goods are in transit.

"As far as I am concerned this is utter nonsense. These are now grown-up countries with large sophisticated economies that need to develop free trade. That means that if they want to sell stuff to us, they have got to take stuff from us in the other direction. It is completely unacceptable to have perishable products like food held up at the docks," Paterson insisted.

Waitrose international sales manager Chris Place, said companies had seen products "stuck at the dockside" due to "serious problems that exist in getting food into India".

Paterson said exporters to China were facing a similar situation. "I had the exact same problem in China last week. Marks and Spencer had a container held up because there was a purple carrot on a Christmas cake that was not one of the registered products."

To combat the issue, Paterson said it was essential information on regulatory changes are communicated to the industry quickly. "This requires good information flow. The sooner people know and understand the changes, the easier it is to react."

In order to assist UK food exporters in their dealings with Chinese officials, the UK government is recruiting a head of agriculture, food and drink to be stationed at the British embassy in Beijing. "This demonstrates the level of our commitment to boost opportunities for British businesses in China," Paterson insisted.

He added the UK government is also backing a push for trade liberalisation in the food sector to open up global markets for UK food exporters.

"The tariff rates in many export markets are far too high. That is why we are continuing to press to lift these and other types of trade barrier in negotiations for free trade agreements.

"We are making real progress. The [World Trade Organization] Bali agreement at the weekend was historic. It's really good news. The recent [free trade] agreement with Canada increases access for dairy products and spirit drinks. Negotiations with the USA [and] India are major opportunities to open countries further. And the EU-US Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership could add GBP10bn (US$16.3bn) annually to the UK economy in the long term."