Importing plants into India: processes and challenges
Plants and plant materials may be imported into India for a number of reasons, including for research purposes, commercial release, consumption or registration of plant varieties under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act 2001. The laws and regulations governing the import of plants and plant materials into India vary depending on the reason for import and the type of material being imported. This legislative and regulatory framework is designed to safeguard plant biosecurity, which is essential to ensure agricultural sustainability, food safety and environmental protection. Plant biodiversity in India is particularly critical, as the country is home to one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems. As international trade of plants and plant materials increases, the risk of introducing exotic pests and diseases along with imported material also rises. Plant biosecurity seeks to prevent, minimise and control the introduction and spread of these pests in the course of international trade. The volume of trade in plants and plant materials in India continues to grow. According to the statistics, the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) – one of several regulatory authorities in this space – has processed for quarantine clearance 642,671 samples of various crop plants comprising seeds, vegetative propagules, in vitro and transgenic materials, of which 499,796 (including 2,447 samples of transgenics) were imported and 142,875 were intended for export. With trade in such material likely to increase in the coming years, it is worth reviewing the legal and regulatory framework governing the import of plants and plant materials into India.
Legislative and regulatory framework International history The earliest plant biosafety laws were enacted in France in the 17th century in order to control the spread of wheat stem rust. Other countries, including Germany and the United States, were among the first to establish plant quarantine services. The Phylloxera Convention – the first international plant protection convention – was signed in 1881 by five countries to control the spread of Phylloxera, a North American aphid accidentally introduced into continental Europe around 1865, which subsequently devastated much of Europe’s grape-growing regions. The 20th century saw much more action on this front. The International Convention for the Protection of Plants was signed in 1929, followed by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) in 1951. The IPPC, which India joined in 1956, superseded all previous international agreements on plant protection and continues to govern the issue today. The IPPC seeks to develop international cooperation among countries to prevent the introduction and spread of pests through international trade and movement of plant materials. It requires each country to establish a national plant protection organisation to discharge certain defined functions. The 1989 Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade recognised the IPPC as a standard-setting organisation for the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement), which facilitates the global movement of plants and plant materials and encourages members of the World Trade Organisation to base their phytosanitary measures on IPPC standards.