Uncertainty in Kashmir has made the cross-continental journey of walnuts and apples from the US or Chile a better deal for many traders despite sky-high tariffs because militants in the valley have attacked fruit-laden trucks, while restrictions on the Internet have made buyer-seller communication difficult.
This is great news for US suppliers, who feared losing business as India imposed retaliatory tariffs on several commodities including walnuts and almonds after the Trump administration withdrew trade concessions for the country.
Traders said imports would rise because domestic supply of walnuts has fallen by a third, while demand is strong. In the case of apples, a clear picture on the extent of supply disruption from Kashmir would emerge next month, they said.
“This year, walnut crop in the country is 30-35% less than last year’s 23,000 tonnes,” said Gunjan Jain, managing director of VKC Nuts. “The harvest from Kashmir valley was delayed and crop was even left to rot by farmers, due to supply disruptions caused by curfew-like restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir.”
High import duty of 132% on walnuts from the US and 110% for shipments from Chile will not slow down imports, as there was huge demand in the country, said Jain. “In 2018-19, we imported 6,500 tonnes of walnuts while this year from April-October, we have imported 8,000 tonnes. We will import another 8,000 tonnes till March end,” he said.
Jain added that due to lower duty of only 33% for walnut kernel, imports were at 1,500 tonnes compared with 250 tonnes from last year.
Over 90% of the country’s walnut production comes from Kashmir. Imports typically surge in June-July, ahead of the festive season.
Apple imports have started in a small way with US fruit being sold at a 5% discount over the previous year at Rs 120-150 a kg while those from European countries such as Turkey, Poland, Italy, Spain, France and Greece were being quoted at a premium of 2-3% at Rs 100-125 per kg over the previous year, said an importer.
High-grade Indian apples from Jammu and Kashmir in the Azadpurmandi, the main fruit distribution hub for the country, were being quoted at Rs 70-75 a kg and that from Himachal Pradesh was in the range of Rs 90-100 a kg, said traders.
“Overall, we see a 15-20% loss in grade A variety of apple this year, largely due to production delay and unseasonal rain and snowfall in Jammu and Kashmir,” said MetharamKriplani, president of Delhi’s Azadpur Chamber of Fruits and Vegetables Association. “Consumer demand for quality apples will spur imports this year. A revision in import duty for Washington apples will further boost demand.”
Indian importers will start signing contracts for apples at the fag end of the domestic season by January-February, he said.
HitinSuri, joint MD, Suri Agro Fresh, said that better clarity will come by February, once the apples in storages start selling in full swing. This year there has been a 20% increase in cold storage capacity in Jammu and Kashmir ensuring the total capacity was now 200,000 tonnes, while in Himachal Pradesh it was 40,000 tonnes.
“Though the Himachal Pradesh cold stores are brimming to capacity with good quality apples, the scenario in Jammu and Kashmir is different,” Suri said. “Hailstorm in July and delay of harvest in August-September has led to a 20% loss in value. Snowfall in November has also caused massive damage to apple trees, which will impact crop in the longer term. We will wait to see the stock position in cold storages till January-February and then get an idea on how much imports will take place.”
Suri said demand for apples will pick up a month earlier by April owing to Ramadan, compared with previous years. “We see the outflow of Indian apples to be higher at that time, but this will also determine how the imports will be for the year ahead,” he said.