India calls for norms to fix default maximum pesticides residue limit

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New Delhi: India has made a strong pitch at the World Trade Organization (WTO) for the formulation of guidelines to determine default maximum residue limits (MRL) in the absence of international standards.The traces pesticides leave in treated products are called residues and MRL is the highest level of a pesticide residue that is legally tolerated in food or feed.In a submission to the WTO last week, India said that stringent MRLs can be trade-restrictive and act as non-tariff barriers to international trade, disproportionately affecting exporters from developing countries.At present there are no uniform international standards.The proposal comes amid certain exports by India’s two major spice brands – MDH and Everest – getting rejected by Singapore and Hong Kong. India’s exports of basmati rice, chillies, tea and sesame seeds are subject to MRLs which have been touted as unreasonable. “These trends are trade-restrictive… and act as barriers to international trade, particularly impacting exporters from developing countries,” India said. Frequent changes in MRL requirements exacerbate the negative impacts on trade, especially when the transition period is not sufficient for compliance by developing countries, it said.The guidelines should be developed in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization and Codex, and countries shouldn’t rely on a “hazard-based approach”, according to the submission.India also suggested that countries inform the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Committee of the WTO periodically about the measures they take to collect the additional information after implementation of a provisional MRL. “Also, any restriction on approval or non-renewal of any active substances should be based on risk-assessment and rely on scientific evidence,” India said.For smoother trade, it said, the SPS Committee should develop a mechanism for monitoring the harmonisation of the standards to protect human, animal and plant life and health, called SPS measures, with the available Codex texts.Citing a “concerning trend” in the movement towards stringent MRL thresholds for pesticides, India said that these might hinder agricultural trade. “Further, the unilateral measures based on considerations other than food safety disregard the local circumstances of agricultural practices,” India said.India also cautioned that expanding the scope of MRL regulations without comprehensive scientific assessments raises concerns about product coverage and safety.

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