With Sri Lanka looking for overseas markets for pepper exports and India trying to restrict pepper imports from Sri Lanka, the inferior quality of Sri Lankan pepper has proved to be the bugbear in this respect.
Although Sri Lankan pepper is enriched with beneficial chemical properties, it loses its inherent goodnessto a good extent in the processing stages. This impacts adversely in tapping sophisticated foreign markets for pepper such as European Union and United States, according to industry experts.
India has been the county’s main pepper buyer for decades. Under the Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA), India was able to import Sri Lankan pepper tariff-free. As a result much of Sri Lanka’s pepper ended up in India. It was reported that 98 per cent of total pepper produced in the county was exported to India in 2005.
However, since November 2006, the Indian Government has been trying to get Sri Lanka to agree to limited imports of pepper from Sri Lanka by the introduction of an annual ceiling of 2500 tonnes.
The main reason for this move is that Indian pepper farmers are averse to Sri Lankan pepper, which is relatively cheap, from coming into their market and placing their livelihood at risk.
It was reported that Indian domestic pepper consumption was around 3500 tonnes.The rest of the imports totalling around 7000 tonnes is absorbed by the extraction industry and export-oriented units for processing and reexporting from India.
"If India implements the restrictions, it is vital to look to other international markets, but then Sri Lankan pepper should be at its maximum potential," said Export Agriculture Department Director Dr. M. Illangasinhe.
He said that tapping other markets will bring in a sizable foreign exchange earning for the country strengthening the national economy.
He added that countries like Vietnam, which has quality human resources and technology, has tapped the international markets, our country has been left far behind.
"In Sri Lanka, small and medium pepper holders are the main pepper suppliers and they do not adopt modern methods to produce export quality pepper. We have to educate pepper producers intensively and extensively on modern methods of production if we are to compete on equal terms with other pepper exporters," said Dr. Illangasinghe.
He said the Agricultural Ministry has taken steps to educate the pepper community village-wise.