EU ban on 'king of mangoes' causes stir in India

08.05.14 @ 09:30

  1. By Benjamin Fox
  2. Benjamin email

BRUSSELS - A health and safety measure quietly imposed by EU officials to protect the bloc's crops is to deprive Europeans of access to India's "king of mangoes".

  • The Alphonso mango - at the centre of an unlikely political storm. (Photo: Renée Suen 孫詩敏)

The EU's 18 month mango ban, which began on 1 May and will last until December 2015 also includes aubergines, two types of squash, and the taro leaf which is widely used in Indian cooking.

It was imposed in March after non-European food pests including fruit flies were found in 207 shipments of fruit and vegetables in 2013, which EU agriculture ministers fear could contaminate crops.

The European Commission said that, although the ban will affect less than 5 percent of the total fresh fruits and vegetables imported into the EU from India, there were "significant shortcomings" in the certification systems that prevent contaminated goods from being exported.

Last Friday (2 May) India, the world's largest mango exporter, which sells up to 70,000 tonnes of the fruit globally, threatened to take the EU to the World Trade Organisation over its ban.

Alphonso mangoes, widely regarded as so-called "king of mangoes", which are particularly popular in the UK, had just begun their ten week season as the ban came into force.

On Wednesday (8 May) UK prime minister David Cameron told national MPs that he would discuss plans to overturn the ban when he has his official phone call with India's incoming prime minister following next week's general election.

As a result of the ban, the price of Alphonso mangoes, which are usually priced out of the reach of millions of Indians, has plummeted by nearly 50 percent.

“Those jittery Europeans have taken fright at some fruit flies in our mango exports, flies which they fear will wreak havoc on their tomatoes and cucumbers,” the Times of India said in an editorial earlier this week. “Imagine sacrificing the king of fruits for salad!”

But the ban will cost India millions in lost exports, and with India in the full swing of a month long election campaign, it has also become a party political issue.

A paper by the Public Policy Research Centre (PPRC), a think tank affiliated to the Bharatiya Janata Party, currently part of India's main opposition party, and whose leader Narendra Modi is likely to become the country's next Prime Minister, blamed the government for the ban.

"The research paper has found that the EU had sent a warning to the Indian government since 2010 on the unsatisfactory phytosanitary conditions. The EU guidelines are quite clear but the agriculture and commerce ministries sat pretty," said Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, director of PPRC.

He added that the government had failed to include discussions on the export of mangoes during ongoing negotiations with the EU to agree a free trade agreement.

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