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    India resumes import of potatoes from Bhutan

    Indian markets in the east and the northeast have received Bhutanese potatoes in the past (Courtesy: Sushil Kumar Verma)

    India on Saturday threw open its domestic market for certain agricultural commodities including potatoes from Bhutan.

    The decision is expected to help a large number of Bhutanese traders as India had stopped the import just days earlier because of growing number of COVID-19 cases in the Bhutanese territory near the border.

    The Indian embassy:

    “A significant milestone has been achieved today in bilateral trade relations between India and Bhutan, opening new market access for areca nut, mandarin, apple, potato and ginger from Bhutan."
    "Agriculture being an important sector in the economy of both countries, this decision to allow market access for these agricultural commodities was arrived at after detailed deliberations between the National Plant Protection Organisation, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, the government of India, the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Embassy of India, Thimphu."

    Indian markets in the east and the northeast have received Bhutanese potatoes in the past. It is not clear why the embassy included it in the list of “new market access”.

    India’s envoy Ruchira Kamboj described the move as part of fulfilling a key commitment to grow bilateral trade. The trade was disrupted after the Indian border trade hub of Jaigaon stopped the import citing COVID-19 cases in Phuentsholing.

    The Indian decision is likely to help dozens of traders on the Bhutanese side who had a large number of trucks stranded after Jaigaon stopped trade.

    The official statement from India promised to 'extend all possible support to Bhutan to minimize the health and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic'.

    Export of potato yet to pick up

    Although the Government of India (GoI) approved potato export from Bhutan after it listed the produce in its import regulation on October 16, export of potatoes from Phuentsholing is yet to pick up.

    There are still hiccups that exporters from Bhutan and importers in Jaigaon face. In the meantime, potatoes are rotting in Phuentsholing.

    Some are saying the potatoes have to be washed and some say the produce should not have soil on it.

    The problem of export of potatoes to India, via Jaigaon (or any other place), which was put on halt more than a week ago, was solved on October 16 after the GoI approved the import.

    Along with potato, areca nut, orange, apple, and ginger were also sanctioned for export from Bhutan to India as all these produce have been listed in India’s import list from Bhutan.

    The Embassy of India in Thimphu notified of the approval, which came as good news to thousands of Bhutanese farmers and importers in Jaigaon.

    However, traders in Phuentsholing and Jaigaon are still facing the problem.

    One dealer in Phuentsholing, Singye Wangdi, said his produce was rotting, adding he was worried that all his potatoes could rot in a few more days.

    Singye Wangdi, a dealer in Phuentsholing:

    “Only a few truckloads of potatoes have gone to India so far.”

    Singye Wangdi said that he even tried sending 130 packets of potatoes from Samtse yesterday but only 40 packets could be sold. Remaining 90 packets had rotted.

    Another exporter, Sonam Tobgay, said that the potato should be without soil and water.

    Sonam Tobgay, an exporter in Phuentsholing:

    “They are asking for additional details in the BAFRA certificate, which is as per the rule.”

    Sonam Tobgay said that his importers had intimated that they need additional 'free from quarantine weed seeds, soil and other plant debris' details in the BAFRA certificate. Talks were going on across the border and the export can come to normalcy soon, he said.

    Sonam Tobgay has about 100 metric tonnes (MT) of potatoes. And the produce at the go-down has already started to rot.

    The marketing chief with the department of agricultural marketing and cooperatives (DAMC) said that nobody seemed to know the reason for sure.

    Sonam Tobgay:

    “There are numerous reasons being mentioned by different importers.”

    “I contacted several importers, and majority of them are pointing to several reasons for not being able to import our potatoes.”

    He said that the Jaigaon importers were importing without an export-import license, which now the customs are regulating.

    Jaigaon customs have also found discrepancies in the invoice, which means that the invoices are undervalued in both quantity and rates, he added.

    Meanwhile, the consignments also require a 'fit for human consumption' certificate from Bhutan side. Jaigaon authorities have also not completed establishing the plant quarantine facilities as of now.

    Sonam Tobgay:

    “When inquiring with the importers, some mentioned that authorities in Jaigaon are getting ready with a plant quarantine facility to abide by the recent instruction received from their authorities.”

    If the potatoes are washed, the shelf life of potatoes will decrease leading to the deterioration of the quality, an official involved in the export business said.