The reduction of import duty on Washington apples from 70 percent to 50 percent is a major blow to the apple industry in Kashmir. The decision is likely to have a major impact on apple growers and traders in the region, who are already struggling to cope with the challenges of the past few years.
The apple industry is the backbone of the Kashmir economy, and it provides employment to millions of people. Currently, five lakh families (around 25 lakh people) in the state are practicing horticulture. Apple occupies around 40 percent of the total area under fruit and accounts for 90 percent of the total production of fruits in the state.
The reduction in import duty will make it much more difficult for local apple growers to compete with imported apples. The Washington apples are of high quality and are often sold at a lower price than local apples. This will make it difficult for consumers to choose local apples, and it will lead to a decline in demand for local apples. The move is also likely to have a negative impact on the prices of local apples which are already under pressure due to the unseasonal snowfall, and frequent closure of Jammu-Srinagar National.
Already, the growing costs of pesticides and transportation have reduced considerably the returns from exports. And if the sector suffers major losses because of the low-priced imported apples, it would not only affect the apple farmers but also the economy as a whole. The existing state of affairs is thus grim news for the region.
Though Kashmir accounts for more than 75 percent of India’s total apple production, the imported apples have threatened to further undermine its profitability. In 2021, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed the imposition of a 35 percent Agriculture Infrastructure and Development Cess in the Union Budget on the apples. However, the cess was not levied on the domestic production of apples. This was expected to benefit Kashmiri apple but it hasn’t as the Iranian apple and those from other countries are reducing its appeal for Indian consumers.
The government should have done more to protect the local apple industry, instead of making it even more difficult for apple growers to compete with imported apples. There is a demand for a hike in import duty by apple growers who believe that a higher duty would protect the interests of local farmers.
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