Two districts from West Bengal, Howrah and Darjeeling, have been adopted under the district export action plan to boost exports of products from these areas. Darjeeling is known worldwide for its tea, and Howrah has been chosen for handmade jewellery.
“In all the 760 districts across India, our aim is to prepare a District Export Plan. It will contain a list of top items which can be exported from that district,” Director General of Foreign Trade Santosh Kumar Sarangi told NDTV.
Mr Sarangi was speaking at the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) at its second workshop on the export control of dual-use items in the eastern region of India.
“For Howrah and Darjeeling, it is a part of the focused intervention that we wanted to take, as part of the 75 top districts where we will initiate action,” Mr Sarangi added.
Addressing the issue of the free-trade agreement (FTA) with Nepal, which tea producers from Darjeeling have raised, Mr Sarangi said, “You can’t expect that India will get zero-duty access to other markets, but it will not provide zero-duty to others’ products… In that case we can never find any FTA with anybody.”
“As a GI (Geographical Indication) product, it is only supposed to be grown in that defined area which has been recognized as GI. They have been alleging that tea grown in Nepal is getting mixed with Darjeeling tea and being sold as Darjeeling tea, which is a violation of GI rules,” Mr Sarangi said.
“Darjeeling tea growers have been working on a barcoding system, where their members will be allowed to use that through Darjeeling tea growers export promotion society to trace the origin… Once that traceability is ensured, this mixing cannot happen and for that you cannot keep blaming only Nepal. You have to also question why we have not been able to establish our enforcement or traceability mechanism,” Mr Sarangi said, explaining the solution to the problem.
Darjeeling tea growers say their product faces a threat, which is tea from Nepal, which is allegedly being pushed as tea grown from the hills and branded as Himalayan Darjeeling tea.
The Indian Tea Association (ITA) has flagged this issue with the Commerce and Industry Ministry and the West Bengal government as well.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech in 2019 highlighted the need to channelise the unique potential of each district of the country and convert them into export hubs.
The “Districts as Export Hubs” initiative has been launched under the Directorate General of Foreign Trade to work with the states and Union Territory and the districts directly to create institutional mechanisms for facilitating exports of identified products and services from the districts. The District Export Action Plans have been prepared for identified products and services for overseas markets.