UAE Import Ban Is Hurting Oman's Agricultural Sector: Experts
Published May 28th, 2017 - 10:27 GMT
Announced just before Ramadan, the UAE import ban on Omani produce is hurting farmers. (AFP/ Sabah Arar)
The UAE ban on Omani melons, watercress and carrots is having a huge economic impact as well as hurting the reputation of agricultural products of the country, say key industry players.
Kuwait followed the UAE in banning the import of carrots from Oman, while imposing strict regulations on other farm products.
While the bigger corporate players understand the importance of production protocol, what chemicals to use, the spray timings as well the right harvest time and shipments to the market, the same cannot be said of the many small operators involved in the business. And, unfortunately the non-conformance of a tiny percentage of the producers has affected the entire industry.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries had stated after the announcement of the ban by the UAE that the quality of most Omani produce matched international standards. “Over 1,600 samples of farm products were analysed and issued pesticide residue analysis certificates from specialised laboratories. These tests proved that 98 percent of the samples conform to internationally permissible limits.”
All local producers have called on the authorities to find a quick solution to the problem as agricultural produce have a short shelf life. “The nature of our market is such that we don’t have the luxury of time. If a solution has to be found it has to be now,” said the head of a large agricultural company.
The ban, according to the producers, has come at the worst possible time - just before Ramadan. “The ban has had a massive impact on us. We along with small farmers depend on Ramadan for good returns. Prices have crashed in the local market because of excess supply. We are sitting on thousands of tonnes of unsold carrots and melons. Our cold stores are full and truckloads of produce are waiting outside the farms,” said a representative of Tawoos Agricultural Systems, one of the largest corporate farming companies in the region.
Shauwn Basson, GM, Nehad Agronomy Services, which is one of the largest exporters of fresh fruits and vegetables in the country, said that the result of such a ban is the spread of negative perception about Omani products. “Negative publicity has affected us even more. All our existing customers want reassurance from us by asking for fresh tests and certifications. A huge amount of work is needed to rebuild the lost trust. We should have a constructive and continuous dialogue with our neighbours. Something like this is the last thing that the market needs, considering the situation (slowdown) we are in.”
The ban that was announced on April 24 and came into effect on May 15. While the local producers were hoping that the ban would not be implemented, one of them proceeded to send a truck on May 15, which was returned. However, other consignments are being allowed for transit to other GCC countries through the UAE.
Meanwhile, other countries have implemented stricter regulations on Omani agricultural products. “Kuwait has banned carrot imports from Oman, and every other consignment has to be accompanied with a Maximum Residue Level (MRL) certificate. Qatar has not banned any product, but is checking every consignment, affecting volumes heavily,” the Tawoos Agricultural Systems representative, said.
He added that buyers are shying away too. “The ban has resulted in a scenario where Omani products are not favourable at this point in time. Even few supermarkets have reported that their customers are questioning the sale of Omani products that have been banned by the UAE.”
Saeed al Kharusi, chairman of the Omani Agriculture Association, said, “We checked samples of carrots and melons and found no pesticide residue. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has called on our neighbours to specify the reasons for the ban but there has been no response till now. We don’t know the reasons behind the UAE ban.”
In the first circular, the ministry stated that from May 21, it is a must to enclose analysis certificate on pesticide residue for all vegetable and fruit products for exports. “Therefore, you are kindly requested to ensure that such certificates are enclosed with each consignment together and inform the suppliers accordingly,” it stated.
In the second order which came into effect on May 18, only three types of crops (or less) are allowed in a truck/container (for export) to ensure a thorough inspection of the contents.
The third order which came into effect on May 17 says that certificates issued by laboratories for export consignments are valid for only five days from the date of issuance. The ministry stated that this will ensure the quality of Omani products.