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Rules of Origin

Where the exporting country is dumping goods, there are provisions to challenge predatory practises, but they are timeconsuming.

SNS | New Delhi |

There is a fatal flaw in efforts to boycott Chinese goods and in taking up the Prime Minister’s call for self-reliance as a means of import substitution. Quite apart from the fact that several areas of consumption ~ electrical and sporting goods, furniture and fittings, solar power and so many more ~ would collapse without Chinese imports, there is an additional problem.

To this day, many goods sold in India, including by e-commerce giants such as Amazon, do not disclose the country of manufacture. The wholesaler may be Indian and so may be the distributor and retailer, but the producer is Chinese in respect of many goods consumed in India.

There are several rules for identifying the origin of a product, but these are often followed in the breach, notwithstanding the need to make disclosure. The Customs Act, 1962 and the Customs Tariff Act, 1975 require such disclosure to ascertain the customs tariff applicable on the goods being imported.

The Trade Marks Act, 1999 and the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act 1999 similarly contain provisions relating to the need to disclose origin of goods. However, it is easy to import, for example, electrical fittings in bulk with the appropriate disclosure and to re-package them locally without any such disclosure.

Hundreds of sellers on e-commerce sites routinely supply goods without disclosing the country of origin. Where the exporting country is dumping goods, there are provisions to challenge predatory practises, but they are timeconsuming.

Hare-brained as the idea of a boycott might be because of India’s international trade commitments, it is a non-starter if disclosure of origin is not made. For if you do not know where goods are made, how do you stop buying them? The multiplicity of legislation covering the subject, the varied and largely ineffectual penalties, and flawed enforcement mechanisms must make way for a comprehensive law detailing rules of origin.

Indeed, such a law must mandate that all goods sold in India ~ through any retail channel ~ display prominently (and not in fine print that requires magnification in order to be legible) the country of manufacture. In short, goods made in India should proudly say so and those made in China or Taiwan or Korea should make like disclosure.

Non-disclosure and mis-disclosure should attract penal provisions and enforcement must be stringent, covering every link in the supply chain. Thereafter, the choice can be left to the consumer ~ to decide whether she or he opts to buy goods manufactured in India, Japan or Papua New Guinea. This would also be in keeping with the country’s trade commitments.

It is one thing to raise strident cries for a boycott on WhatsApp groups and in television debates. But in the absence of appropriate legislation on disclosure of origin, it is all just hot air expelled to divert attention from meatier issues.