A flicker of hope that India may be softening its stance on pulse import bans and tariffs when it briefly lifted an import ban on all peas last week was extinguished almost immediately when the Indian Government reinstated the ban just 24 hours later.
And Australian pulse industry insiders warn that domestic considerations, rather than international trade issues will be the primary focus of the Indian government in the lead-up to the Indian election in May next year.
Pulse import policy in India, the world’s largest market for pulse crops, came into the spotlight late last year when the Indian government imposed tariffs and bans on imports of certain pulse crops in order to reduce high supplies and to improve returns back to local farmers.
“The election is very much what the Indian government is thinking about,” said Peter Wilson, chief executive of AGT Foods Australia, a leading pulse exporter.
“We don’t expect that focus to change in the short-term.”
Ron Storey, chairman of Pulse Australia, said the organisation had been working under the understanding that the tariffs and quotas would continue for some time, however he said the lack of communication from the Indian government was a concern.
“There are reports that traders, upon hearing the pea ban had been lifted, went out in good faith and bought peas only to be told a day later they no longer had the option of the Indian market,” Mr Storey said.
“It’s a point we continue to raise with the Indian government to ensure there is as much communication as possible surrounding their plans surrounding pulse imports.
“We want to highlight how these decisions influence us here in Australia.”
Mr Wilson provided a ray of optimism in terms of India’s future demand for pulse crops.
“We’ll get a clearer indication come October when the Indian farmers are planting their Rabi (winter) crop and choosing whether to put in chickpeas or not.”
“Looking at the prices on offer I think the Indian farmer will react not that differently to his counterpart in Australia and where possible try to plant the crop that will generate the most income, which in this case is wheat.”
Mr Wilson said he believed there would still be a large enough Australian harvest of desi chickpeas to generate an export program.
“We’ve certainly become more robust as an industry, if we had a season like this in 1994 we’d probably be looking at a national harvest of only 20,000 tonnes or so.
“Now, we could easily see 100,000 tonnes out of Central Queensland, in spite of frost concerns, and there are also crops in northern NSW, so there will be chickpeas around.”