Pawar for bringing down onions MEP

New Delhi: Making a strong case for bringing down the USD 600 per tonne export benchmark price for Indian onions which has made them uncompetitive, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on Wednesday said the Minimum Export Price is double the prevailing rate in international markets.

"I have enquired from the states from where onions are exported to different countries and got information that the prevailing international export price is around USD 250-300, but our MEP, at USD 600 per tonne, is almost double," Pawar told reporters here.

"This (higher MEP) will create obstacles in exporting onions from India," Pawar said on the sidelines of an agriculture function.

"I think it is a fit case for giving a second thought to bring down MEP to make Indian onions internationally competitive," he said.

Pawar expressed confidence that the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) meeting this week will give serious thought to the issue (of lowering MEP).

The government had last week decided to lift ban on exports of onions following farmers` protest over crash in domestic prices within two months of touching Rs 80 a kg.

The decision to this effect on February 17 last was taken at the meeting of the empowered group of ministers (EGoM) on food, headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

But, as a precautionary measure against possibility of prices shooting again, the EGoM decided to allow shipments of onions at a Minimum Export Price (MEP) of USD 600 (About Rs 28,000) per tonne.

Agricultural Minister Sharad Pawar, Food Minister K V Thomas and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma could not attend the crucial meeting due to other engagements.

Earlier, Pawar and Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had approached Commerce and Industry minister Anand Sharma to open onions export in view of farmers agitation in the main producing state Maharashtra due to crashing of prices as a result of oversupply.

The government had banned onion exports in the last week of December, 2010, to augment domestic supply and contain onion prices, which had touched Rs 70-80 per kg.

Prior to the ban, India exported 11.58 lakh tonnes of onions mainly to gulf countries, Sri Lanka and Malaysia during April-November of this fiscal.

Referring to debate on price rise in Parliament yesterday, Pawar said price rise of some vegetables like onions in the past one month was "temporary".

He made it clear that regulating perishable produce that comes directly from farmers, in line with other commodities like wheat and rice, was not possible.

He reiterated that the Centre does not have much role in perishable items like fruits & vegetables which are primarily the responsibility of state governments.