Bitter Coffee

Bangalore, Aug 22 | Updated: Aug 23 2004, 06:03am hrs
In the last of our series on the travails of exporters in the run-up to the National Foreign Trade Policy, FE takes you through the hoops that coffee exporters have to jump through.

The Coffee Board has been doing a good job in overseas projection of Indian coffee as a brand. But as far as exporters are concerned, it is one more organisation to approach for a permit, adding to reams of paperwork.

Around two-thirds of the coffee produced in the country is exported. Forms have to be submitted to the Coffee Board, customs, excise, and the state government. The sales tax ofice, and regional transport office (RTO) have to be tackled.

Its a tough journey from the coffee plantation to the port
Why cant we have a single common form for all of them asks Coffee Exporters Association president Ramesh Raja. Also on his wish-list is single window clearance. There is a plethora of controls. The biggest burden is red tapism, as any one of the government offices we deal with can put a spanner in the works, he says.

Delays in transporting the commodity from plantation to port are also a bugbear. With multiple checkposts on the way, a typical 3-4 hour wait while the inspector scrutinises the papers adds an indirect cost, Mr Raja says.

Even if the papers are in order, and an officer is in the mood to harass an exporter, he can always do it, he says. It can be as trivial as The permit says Indian coffee while your documents say India coffee. How can we allow that

Coffee Board permits have a validity of two weeks, but that is too short in the Indian context. In case the permit lapses at a checkpost, the consignment has to be physically brought back to Bangalore and revalidated.

Out of a consignment of 18 truckloads of coffee, even if 17 reach Kochi port and one is delayed, it cannot be shipped, resulting in double trouble - buyer displeaure as well as additional carrying costs.

Youd presume that there has been a simplification of procedures in recent years. But Mr Raja says, In fact it takes longer than used to. Knowing how the odds are stacked against them, exporters now aim to ship consignments out a day in advance.

Whatever liberalisation there has been in rules has been drafted so vaguely that interpretation takes a few years to settle down, he notes. For instance, the order on self-sealing of packages was passed way back in 1996, but Coimbatore still does not allow that. How can a Central law be followed differently in different parts of the country Mr Raja asked.

And adds bitterly: Drafting should not be done by lawyers. It only seems to benefit them.

Finally, what is euphemistically called speed money is very much a reality, and the transparency being trumpeted is only on paper. Without greasing palms, our cargo cannot be shipped, Mr Raja says.