The unregulated import of apples from Iran is causing heavy losses to orchardists in J&K and Himachal Pradesh. J&K is by far the biggest producer of apples in the country, followed by HP and Uttarakhand. The livelihoods of lakhs of people depend on the cultivation of this fruit. Apple growers are perturbed about a lacuna in a multilateral trade agreement. India and Afghanistan, along with six other countries, fall in the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA); hence, they do not impose duty on imports from each other. Iran is not a signatory to this pact, but consignments of apples from that country are being routed through Afghanistan and then Pakistan, reaching India via the Attari-Wagah border. Iranian apples are also making their way into India through the sea route.
With the cheaper variety flooding the Indian market, local apple growers are struggling to compete in view of rampant under-invoicing of the imports. Some orchardists are demanding a blanket ban on these imports, while others are seeking the imposition of 100 per cent duty. The growers are also apprehensive that Iranian apples may trigger pest infestation, even as the National Plant Protection Organisation of the Agriculture Ministry recently banned the import of kiwis from Iran as the fruit did not meet India’s safety standards.
Apple is a popular fruit that remains in demand throughout the year. It’s ironical that the indigenous apple industry is finding it tough to stay afloat in India, which is not only one of the world’s leading producers of a wide range of fresh fruits but also a major exporter. The country exported fruits (mainly grapes and mangoes) worth around Rs 5,000 crore during 2020-21. The Centre should intervene to regulate the import of apples after making an accurate assessment of the demand-supply gap. Modalities for the imposition of sizeable import duty can be worked out with Iran in order to prevent loss of revenue to the exchequer. What’s needed is a level playing field which can help local growers of this fruit — highly vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather — get remunerative prices.