Pulses Trade in Indian Subcontinent

The share of India’s import of pulses in the total world pulses trade has increased from nearly 9% in 1998 to as much as 50% in 2016. India traditionally imported dry peas mainly from Canada and USA. However, cheaper imports from Russia, Ukraine and France are receiving attention.

India’s booming food consumerism mainly due to the hospitality services, fast food joints, restaurant industry and increasing affluent lifestyle affording home consumption has led to higher consumption of pulses. This has turned India from an exporter during the close of the last century into world’s biggest importer of pulses. Rise in demand for pulses imports were actually liberalized more than a decade before the country embarked on economic liberalization in the early 1990s. Pulses imports were placed under the open general licence (OGL) in 1979, allowing anyone to import pulses into India freely, without any restrictions, but subject to duty. During the 80s, import tariff was 35%. It was brought down to 10% in 1989 and further to a low of 5% in 1995. The duty was removed altogether in 2000–01, but the 5% tariff was reinstated in April 2001, and thereafter the duty was raised again to 10% in March 2002. The continued shortfall in domestic supplies, and to stem the rising prices of pulses within the country, the government eventually allowed duty free imports from June 2006.Till 2006, pulses import was in the hands of private importers and processors. In 2007, domestic pulses prices started rising sharply. To ensure supplies at reasonable prices to the poor, the Centre decided to distribute pulses through the public distribution system (PDS), and required public sector trade bodies like Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation, State Trading Corporation, National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED), and PEC, a wholly owned subsidiary of STC, to enter the world pulses market for procurement. These agencies began to float global tenders. Since international prices had already gone up because of the government’s announcement for bulk imports, the 2012 procurement cost paid by the public sector agencies turned out to be quite high through the tender process resorted to by them. The government then declared a 15% subsidy on the import bills of these public sector agencies. Not only did the subsidy prove to be costly to the central exchequer, but the government objective to keep pulses prices under control was not achieved at all.

Before 1975, India’s imports of pulses were less than 5,000 tonnes while exports were invariably higher, and at times, exceeded 30,000 tonnes in some years, though, by and large, they were less than 10,000 tonnes . After 1976, imports began to increase swiftly, and touched 80,000 tonnes towards the end of 1970s, while simultaneously, exports dwindled to less than a thousand tonnes, revealing the domestic scarcity of output. India’s pulses imports, which were just about 3% in 1970s before the liberalization of import policy, exceeded a million-tonne mark in 1997, and accounted for 15% of global imports that year. Although imports declined thereafter for three years in succession, owing to satisfactory domestic crop, bringing down India’s share in world pulses trade to nearly 4%; the fall, however, was shortlived. For, after the dawn of the New Millennium, India was back in the global pulses market to buy increasing quantities from year to year, thanks to torpid domestic production year after year. Imports of pulses into India eventually reached almost 4 million tonnes, and accounted for a third of the world trade. During the last decade, India’s pulses imports have been rising at a compound growth of as much as 18% per annum. India’s aggregate import of pulses stood at 3.8 million tonnes in 2009 compared with 2.6 million tonnes in the previous year. During the fiscal year 2009–10, the public sector agencies together imported nearly 6 lakh tonnes of pulses, while the rest amounting to more than 3 million tonnes was sourced by private trade and processing industry. Among the different designated public sector agencies, PEC is reported to have imported about 2.6 lakh tonnes, STC imported around 1.2 lakh, NAFED another 1.2 lakh, and MMTC nearly one lakh10.The major pulses imported in India include dry beans and peas,chana and lentils (masoor). Over the years the share of dry peas and beans in total imports has been rising. In 2009, India imported 16.55 lakh tonnes (accounting for 44% of total imports) of dry peas and 10.31 lakh tonnes (accounting for 28% of total imports) of dry beans. The share of chana and other pulses has reduced by halve in the last decade.

Although pulses production shows a persistent shortfall in the country, India, never the less, exports pulses, albeit in small quantities, mostly to the Indian population in west Asia. As it is,pulses exports from India had risen during the last decade and a little more from barely a lakh tonnes in 1998 to almost half a million in 2005, before sliding back once again to a lakh by 2009. Presently, they account for a meagre 1% in the total world trade. The Indian government banned export of all pulses, excepting that of kabuli chana, from June 22, 2006, for six months due to domestic shortages. The ban was subsequently extended from time to time, owing to continued stagnancy in the domestic output in the face of growing domestic demand, following steady increase in both population and personal disposable incomes, of especially the growing middle class. The persistent firmness in prices of pulses on the one hand, and the raging general inflation in the economy on the other hand, led the government recently to extend the ban further up to March 31, 2012, vide its notification of March 23, 2011.11 Export of kabuli chana is continued to be allowed, however; besides another 10,000 tonnes of organic pulses as well.

Unsurprisingly, the blanket prohibition on pulses export notwithstanding, India did export around a lakh tonnes of pulses in 2009. Kabuli chana export seems to have been permitted, as India is a major chana-producing country in the world, and has a surplus in kabuli chana. As may be seen later, the inflation-adjusted chana prices have declined through the last decade, against the comparative firmness in the prices of other pulse varieties. Among different pulses, Indian masoor has earned a name and position in the international pulse market. There was a huge demand for masoor from Nepal and Syria. Since June 2006,masoor exports also came to be banned, along with all other pulses.