Fresh produce exporters in India are optimistic about the decision of the European Union to lift the ban on the import of five Indian commodities before the end of 2016.

Manoj Barai of M. K. Exports, an Indian exporter of fresh produce, hopes a meeting that was held in September between India and the EU will once again pave the way for exports to the European market.

The five products that were banned in 2014 were mangoes, eggplants, taro plants, bitter gourd and snake gourd. The EU has already lifted the ban on mangoes.

According to Manoi, the demand for Indian exotic vegetables has been on the rise for the last three years, even though growers and exporters have had to bear the heavy cost of meeting the European quality standards.

“Since 2012 things have been very hard for us, as there are very strict regulations with regards to quality. The cost of growing, packing and shipping has increased considerably, as there are now many stages the produce has to go through before it is shipped to Europe. The Indian government has been very strict with regards to export as well. Every consignment has to be tested for residue levels and other properties before it is shipped to Europe," explains Manoi.

M. K. Exports supplies okra, green peppers, fresh beans, green peas, onions, ivy gourd, jack fruit, betel leaves and other products to the United Kingdom, which is their biggest market. One of its major products for the UK market is okra, with a volume of 3 tons.

Other important export markets are Sweden, Italy, Qatar, Hong Kong and Canada. The top three products that are sent to Sweden are okra, green peppers and bitter gourd, although the demand for these products comes from Asian consumers.

“We have been exporting to Sweden for two years now. The market is growing but it's still not comparable to the UK, where demand for our vegetables is high. Exporting to Sweden is easier than the UK as there are no tough restrictions, but again the market isn’t huge so our volumes are still small,” explains Manoi.

Another challenge the exporters have had to grapple with, is competition from Italy and Spain. “Unfair competition from Italy and Spain is a major issue. We have to comply with very strict rules at customs, while suppliers from those two countries are exempt from these rules. At the same time there are Indian growers active on Italian and Spanish soil, making use of the same seeds that we use. We end up with the same quality of produce, while those offshore companies have a big advantage in terms of marketing. This is a major disadvantage. But during winter, there are more opportunities for us," explains Manoi.

M. K. Exports is considering Singapore and Malaysia as new markets for exotic vegetables.