KOCHI: Imports of pepper from Sri Lanka for domestic use have shot up to 717 tonnes in the January to June period, of which nearly 50 per cent or 372 tonnes came in the month of June.
According to data compiled by the Kerala chapter of the Indian Pepper and Spice Traders, Growers, Planters Consortium, in the first six months of 2019 (January-June), imports were 408 tonnes, which means this year there has been a significant growth of 56 per cent in the same period.
The consortium said ever since the bilateral agreement signed between India and Sri Lanka under the SAARC pact, pepper imports from Sri Lanka have been growing at a fast clip. Total imports of pepper under various heads including for domestic use shot up from 14,559 tonnes in 2014-15 to 27557 tonnes in 2018-19, a jump of 89.28 per cent, said Kishor Shamji, coordinator, Indian Pepper and Spice Traders, Growers, Planters Consortium, Kerala, in a letter to D Sathiyan, secretary, Spices Board.
For the first six months of this calendar year, the total imports shot up from 10,836 tonnes to 11,055 tonnes. “The rising imports are also the major reason for the fall in domestic pepper prices from Rs 700/kg in 2013 to Rs 300/kg now,” Shamji told The New Indian Express.
To protect domestic pepper farmers, the general import duty for the commodity is fixed at a high 70 per cent. However, as per the agreement with Sri Lanka, the pepper coming from the island nation has a concessional duty of only 8 per cent. Shamji said pepper from Vietnam is being routed through Sri Lanka to India to escape the high duty structure. Though a minimum import price of Rs 500/kg is fixed to curb imports from Sri Lanka, Shamji said this has not curbed the dumping of pepper from the neighbouring country.
“The farming community is apprehensive as to why the imports are taking place at Rs 500/kg minimum import price and paying 8 per cent import duty as well as social welfare cess of 10 per cent on import duty and 5 per cent GST too,” said the letter to the Spices Board.
“We suspect a gross violation of the FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act) by importers,” said Shamji.