Guwahati: Even as the pineapple and the Khasi Mandarin orange of Northeast India are now to be found at markets across the world, exports from the region do not even make up for one per cent of the total exports from rest of the country.

A parliamentary standing committee on commerce has expressed dismay at the low percentage of exports from the eight states of Northeast India, which is only 0.156% of total exports from the country. This is a significantly small share compared to the overall exports from India and highlights the need for greater support and investment in the region’s exporting capabilities.

The committee noted that the limited trade occurring in the Northeast region is heavily skewed, with a majority of exports from Assam and very little trade from the rest of the region. This is a cause for concern, as the committee points out that the region has vast geographical potential and resources, but has not been able to develop as a trade centre.

“It is perturbing to note that the region is not able to develop as a trade centre despite having huge geographical potentialities and endowments,” the committee says in its report.

Several measures and initiatives have been devised in an effort to increase exports from the Northeast region. For example, the Department of Commerce has been working closely with the state governments of the Northeast to create a supportive environment that will enhance the export of goods and services from the region. This includes helping the states develop a comprehensive export strategy based on an assessment of their strengths and identifying products with export potential.

The Market Access Initiative (MAI) Scheme provides financial assistance to Export Promotion Councils (EPCs), Commodity Boards, trade bodies, and other organizations to support initiatives and activities aimed at developing trade, improving market intelligence, and building relevant skills. Exporters from Northeast India are eligible for priority sector funding at an enhanced rate of 90% of actual expenditure. During the 2021-2022 fiscal year, MAI assistance totalling Rs 10.78 crore was approved for EPCs and trade bodies to promote exports from the Northeast region.

Under the Trade Infrastructure for Export Scheme Central Government, assistance up to 80 per cent of total equity is provided in the form of grant-in-aid in the total project cost for projects located in Northeastern states. The scheme has been extended for the period FY 2021-22 to 2025-26 with a total financial outlay of Rs 360 crore.

Border Haats are being established in Tripura and Meghalaya through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Bangladesh in an effort to promote traditional marketing systems. The Indian government has designated the Shellac and Forest Products Export Promotion Council (SHEFEXIL) as the nodal agency responsible for promoting exports from the Northeast states. In the marine sector, the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) held a meeting with the Department of Fisheries of the Northeast states to explore opportunities for implementing viable aquaculture development projects in the region. The states have been informed of the steps they can take to increase production and boost exports of Tilapia fish.

The committee has recommended that a strategy be developed to minimize obstacles in the trade ecosystem, particularly infrastructural and logistical challenges. This strategy should also include establishing strong connections between traders in the Northeast region and the mainland, as well as improving land-based trade across borders, which could help boost local economies.

The committee commends the efforts of the Commerce Department to increase the production and trade of agriculture and marine products, tea, coffee, rubber, and spices in the Northeast region. However, it suggests that the rubber and coffee sectors should receive more attention and support in order to explore their growth potential and prospects in the eight states of the Northeast.

The committee also recommends that since the region provides a natural choice for organic farming due to less usage of chemicals in agri-practices, organic production of tea, spices, fruits and vegetables should be encouraged. Embracing organic farming in the Northeast by supporting producers and traders in the supply chain and improving marketing linkages should also be promoted.

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