Indians in Britain bitter about mango ban

Indians in Britain bitter about mango ban

A temporary European ban on one of India's sweetest exports has left Britain's Indian community with a bitter taste.

In fact, India-born Labour MP Keith Vaz is so perturbed that he personally delivered a case of prized alphonso mangoes to 10 Downing Street last Tuesday to give Prime Minister David Cameron a taste of what he and his country will be missing.

"This is euro nonsense and bureaucracy gone mad," the Times of India reported Mr Vaz saying. "Indian mangoes have been imported to Britain for centuries. I am furious with the lack of consultation with those who will be affected by the ban."

Following up on pleas from his constituents in Leicester, the MP has also written to the European Commission president.

Last month, the plant health care committee of the European Union (EU) announced the ban, which went into effect last Thursday, after 207 Indian consignments of fruit and vegetables last year were found to be infested with pests, including "non-European fruit flies", Agence France-Presse reported.

In addition to prohibiting imports of the Alphonso until December next year, the ban also covers eggplant, bitter gourd, the taro plant and snake gourd from India.

The committee said the fear is that new pests found in shipments of such fruit and vegetables could be introduced into the EU and threaten its own agriculture.

Britain's own Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) supports the ban as necessary to protect the country's £321 million (S$679 million) tomato and cucumber industry.

But India's leading export promotion agency criticised the ban on mango imports as unjustified, and appealed to Brussels to overturn its decision.

Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma further threatened last Friday to take the trade dispute to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva if the EU did not lift the ban.

"We do hope that the EU will see sense," he told reporters in New Delhi.

India is the world's largest exporter of mangoes, selling up to 70 million kilograms of various varieties globally. Britain alone imports some 16 million mangoes a year worth about £6.3 million. Last year, it held its first-ever Indian mango festival in Trafalgar Square with support from London Mayor Boris Johnson.

The ban is expected to hit Indian farmers hard as the mango surplus has driven down prices.

Even celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay may become an unexpected "casualty" of the ban.

He once recommended the alphonso as the perfect dessert, and may now find himself wondering what to serve after his main course.

zach@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 4 in The Straits Times.

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