India's rice exports hit as Saudi Arabia makes quality rules stringent

Saudi Arabia's new quality certification rules for imported rice has upset the plans of Indian exporters looking for a new market after the US imposed sanctions on Iran.

The Saudi Food & Drug Authority (SFDA), the quality regulator, has from September 1 made it mandatory for each rice consignment to be  accompanied by a Certificate of Conformity (COC). It has given Indian rice exporters time till December 31 to provide an affidavit undertaking for consignments sent after September 1, 2019 that COC will be submitted in due course.

Indian exporters estimate a sharp decline in exports to the kingdom from next year because of the new rules. India’s rice shipments to Iran have been at standstill for the last two months.

“Obtaining COC is not easy and cost-effective. Hence, all exporters may not be able to meet the requirements laid down for COC certification. Therefore, India’s rice exports would certainly be hit January onwards when the three months allotted for affidavit undertaking for future consignments ends,” said Sharif Yusuf, director at Al Gyas Exports, a Mumbai-based rice exporter.

India’s basmati exports to Saudi Arabia have declined to below 20 per cent in the financial year 2018-19 from over 26 per cent 2014-15.

SFDA has authorised two agencies--Intertek and TUV Austria (India) --for issuing COC to India’s basmati rice exporters.

According to trade sources, a delegation comprising Indian government officials and representatives of the rice business met SFDA officials to easier norms but was successful in obtaining only a temporary relief for extension of three months to adhere to COC requirement.

“One of the major requirements for the SFDA was the traceability of rice. This means, exporters must explain the origin of rice. We have categorically denied. We argued that the average landholding for farmers is just 1-2 acre/s and therefore impossible to trace the origin. We believe, all issues will be shorted out before the deadline,” said Gurnam Arora, Joint Managing Director of Kohinoor Foods, the Kohinoor brand basmati rice producer and exporter.

Meanwhile, the Agricultural and Processed Foods Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) has called for certificate of accreditation from interested rice exporters.

According to Apeda, SFDA has agreed to source rice from India from such rice establishments which have adopted Food Safety Management System (FSMS) based on international standards viz ISO 22000 and/ or HACCP (the two most stringent quality specifications in food sector). Merchant exporters are required to provide a certificate from the unit from where the rice has been sourced by them and such units should be processing these aforementioned certificates.

An email sent to Apeda on impact on India’s rice exports remained unanswered.

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