TRIPS, non-tariff barriers major issues in BD-India rice seed trade

Financial Express, Bangladesh, December 23, 2013

Experts at international seminar opine

The experts at an international seminar Sunday focused on the importance of the TRIPS issue, considering formal rice seed trade between India and Bangladesh in future. The Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is an international agreement, administered by the World Trade Organization (WTO). The international seminar styled ‘Addressing Barriers to Rice Seed Trade between India and Bangladesh’ was held at Brac Centre in the city.

Bangladeshi private think-tank Unnayan Shamannay and Indian consumer right-based organisation CUTS International (Consumer Unity & Trust Society) jointly organised the programme with the support of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The speakers said non-tariff barriers, imposed by India, is the key obstacle in rice seed trade between the two countries.

They also said farmers of these countries exchange rice seeds frequently and conduct seed trade informally, which should be done through a formal channel to make them more benefited. The seminar also revealed the outcome of a recent study, conducted jointly by Shamannay and CUTS.

According to the study findings, several Bangladeshi high yielding varieties (HYV), including BR-11, BR-12, Brridhan-28, Brridhan-29, and hybrid variety Hira are being cultivated by farmers in different districts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Pashchimbanga and Asam states in India.On the other hand, farmers in Jessore, Dinajpur and Chapainawabganj districts in neighbouring Bangladesh are also cultivating different Indian varieties like Swarna and Miniket etc.

The study mentioned that importing rice seeds from India to Bangladesh is easy. Bangladesh has not imposed any tariff or non-tariff barriers on rice seed import, but India has imposed a number of non-tariff barriers.Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) executive director Dr Mustafizur Rahman said the farmers of India and Bangladesh annually exchange a significant quantity of rice seeds in form of informal trade. “But, for giving the seed trade a formal shape, addressing the TRIPS issue is very important, as then the trade would not remain as a bilateral issue anymore, rather it would be a global issue,” he said. Dr Rahman also said barriers in knowledge sharing between the scientists of the two countries should be removed.

Anwar Faruque, director general of Seed Wing under the Ministry of Agriculture, said seed is a technological element, and Bangladesh government has declared the seed sector as a thrust sector. “Seed trade is going on through informal channel, as formal channel has the barrier of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR),” he said echoing Dr Rahman.

“Considering the existing laws and rules, there is no barrier in conducting seed trade between Bangladesh and India, except the TRIPS issue, but the two countries should reach a consensus,” he opined.He also emphasised the need for conducting joint research by the countries as well as setting up a SAARC Seed Bank, proposed by the Bangladeshi government. Brac executive director Dr Mahabub Hossain pointed out that hybrid rice has achieved little in Bangladesh due to its quality. He said the hybrid rice varieties yield 15 to 20 per cent higher production than the ordinary varieties, but prices of the former is also 15-20 per cent lower due to their inferior quality.

“India had four kinds of hybrid rice seed in 1998. The number now stands at 104, of which 90 varieties are imported from China. Quality is also important besides productivity in case of hybrid seeds,” he said.

Dr Mahfuz Kabir, senior research fellow of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BISS), said formal trading of rice seeds is needed to ensure quality seed, as informal trade may create contamination. Swapan Kumar Datta, deputy director general India Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), focussed on open management of germplasms between the countries for research collaboration and subsequent development of rice varieties.

Unnayan Shamannay emeritus fellow Khondker Ibrahim Khaled presided over by the inaugural session, while team leader of the organisation Dr A K Enamul Haque delivered opening address. Sushil Pandey, former senior scientist of IRRI, F R Malik, former president of Bangladesh Seed Association, Subir Kumar Bardhan Roy, former joint director and head of Rice Search Station of India, among others, also spoke on the occasion.

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