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Before 1995 the Indian Government supplied Health Certificates for exports of Bombay Duck. In 1995 the EC decided to impose a new Health Certificate which the Indian government found inappropriate for the type of cottage industry which produces Bombay Duck.
In 1997 some frozen shrimp and squid in Indian fishery establishments was found by border inspectors in Denmark to be contaminated by harmful bacteria such as, vibrio cholera and salmonella. EC Decisions (97/515/EC and 97/513/EC) banned the imports of all fishery products because of the lack of hygiene in the establishments visited. They did not visit the little village locations where the bummalo fish is dried. The ban was effective from the 1 August 1997.
The effect of the arbitrary ban was alleged to cause unrest amongst Indian fishermen as their livelihoods were cut off. A very long established Billingsgate specialist fish trader was forced into bankruptcy.
On the 23 December 1997 the embargo was lifted provided that fish products only came from EC approved fish freezing and canning establishments where EC authorised inspectors were stationed. The inspectors have to sign a health certificate signifying that each consignment is fit to eat and has been produced in hygienic conditions. There is no provision for approving dried fish produced in remote villages where the authorised inspectors are not in residence. Individual fishermen are simply not able to cope with the bureaucracy of registering their patch of sandy beach as an "establishment", employing a resident EC authorised inspector from the Export Inspection Council of India and completing the complex EC Health Certificate for each shipment. Neither do they have ready access to microbiological testing laboratories.
The EC Agricultural Commissioner Mr. Franz Fischler insisted that only fish from approved plants can be exported to the UK. He was not prepared to make any concessions that will allow a safe and popular product to be sold to diners in Britain. One has to wonder if the EC really knows what it is doing. In response to a request for statistics on imports prior to the ban, the reply from the EC was that there was no ban on Peking Duck (which really is duck)!
In the letter from the Directorate General VI Agriculture, 8 October 1997, the Director General wrote: "Concerning your request on the statistics of sanitary problems with the imports of Bombay Duck I should inform you that such statistics are not available because the Bombay Duck, as a speciality fishery product, is included in the more general chapter of fishery products". So, no analysis and assessment of objective and accurate scientific data was done by the EC to justify the ban on Bombay Duck.
On the contrary, the Public Health Laboratory Service in London wrote on the 10 November 1997: "With regards to food poisoning incidents, there is no information on incidents specifically attributed to Bombay Duck...therefore any information we are able to provide on the level of contamination of processed fish products, including Bombay Duck, will not have been used to justify the current bans".
A BRIEF HOPE OF COMPROMISE.
There was, briefly, a hint of compromise from Brussels. The Indian High Commission took up the case of the effective ban on Bombay Duck directly with the EC Agricultural Directorate. It was told that if Bombay Duck was produced in clean conditions in the open air but was then packed in an "approved fish processing establishment", it could be imported.
TRS Wholesale Ltd immediately contacted several approved processors in the Bombay area but none were at all interested in packing what to them would be small quantities of Bombay Duck. Then Kelly and Sandy Anderson, campaign supporters, went to India and contacted over 30 approved processors in the hope that they would take over packing Bombay Duck. All declined.
THE EU - INDIA TRADE SUMMIT
The Joint Declaration of the first Summit between the EU, chaired by Commissioner Chris Patten, and India that was held in Lisbon, Portugal on 28th June 2000 says:
We are determined to work jointly to promote and increase the flows of goods and services between the EU and India... We share the view that it is important to progressively liberalise trade and to oppose protectionist trends in our march towards economic growth and development. We share the commitment towards an open, equitable and non-discriminatory rule-based multilateral trading system and we shall work together to strengthen it... We stressed the importance of maintaining the momentum towards further trade liberalisation and strengthening of the WTO, based on an agenda that adequately reflects the interest of all members of the multilateral trading system.. We agree that the objective of any such negotiations should be to enhance market access, develop and strengthen WTO rules and disciplines... In this context, particular importance should be given to improving market access for developing countries.
Agenda for Action: Work jointly to promote and increase flows of goods and services between the EU and India.
If the example of the EU ban on Bombay Duck is any guide to how serious these high sounding phrases are then there is not much hope for India.