Apple Growers of Himachal and J&K expressed displeasure over the slashing of duty on US Apple

Apple Farmers Federation of India expressed displeasure over the Narendra Modi government for easing import duty on the US Apple during the current season in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.

A joint statement issued by the conveners and convenor of IAAFI Mr Sohan Thakur and Mr Zahoor Ahemed said that the apple marketing season is already underway in J&K and Himachal Pradesh.

” Being an annual crop, the apple grower patiently waits for an entire year in the hope of a good crop and adequate prices. However,  prospects for a happy harvest in 2023 are dim, owing to a mix of governmental policies and ecological conditions.”

They said that the Union government has withdrawn 20 pc additional import duty on apples (as well as on walnuts and almonds)  from the US on September 5. These additional duties imposed by India on US-origin products have been withdrawn as the US agreed to provide market access to Steel and Aluminium products. 

IAAFI said that this is an apparent bargain that would grievously hurt apple growers of HP and J&K.  This slashing of import duty would cause more premium Washington apples to enter the Indian market.  Washington apple is heavily subsidised with almost one-third of the production costs of the apple farmer being borne by the US government.

 In India, the government bears a very small percentage of production costs, and that too through indirect subsidies. Further, the average US apple farmer controls hundreds of acres of orchards with state-of-the-art machinery and enjoys economies of scale, due to which they gain a profit margin even selling at a relatively cheaper rate. 

This is exactly what we have been seeing since apple imports to India became substantial. Even without the withdrawal of import duty, imported Washington apples are cheaper than the best quality apples grown by growers of J&K and Himachal Pradesh and naturally outcompete the latter in consumer choice. 

Thus, in the premium segment where there is scope for margins, the apple grower stares at losses as Washington apples flood the market, which would only become worse after the slashing of import duty. 

Arguments that stress the reducing share of Washington apples in total imports in recent years ignore the plain fact that it is extremely unjust to see apple growers in the US and India as equals.

IAAI demanded that not only the current move be withdrawn, but a 100% additional duty be imposed on apples imported from the US. It is difficult for small growers to access cold storage and Controlled Atmosphere (CA) facilities during the harvesting season. 

According to government data from 2018, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh had 47, 55, and 65 cold storages (both private and government-owned) with holding capacities of 1,62,821 MT, 1,82,527 MT, and 1,25,967 MT respectively., which is a little more than 15 pc of the total production of apples in J&K. 

In the 2022 apple season, big traders in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh leased in most of the CA and cold storage, and common orchardists were unable to store their produce and had to sell it off at extremely low prices. 

IAAI also demanded that new public sector CA units be constructed which are leased out to apple growers and not traders at a subsidized rate.

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