India's appetite for California walnuts has boomed over the years, making it South Asia's largest consumer market of the dry fruit imported from America, a senior industry expert said, amid ongoing negotiations between New Delhi and Washington to settle their trade differences.
Trade tensions between India and the United States escalated after President Donald Trump, championing his 'America First' policy, complained on Twitter that tariffs imposed by New Delhi on American products were "no longer acceptable" to his country.
India imposed retaliatory tariffs on 28 US products, including walnuts, almonds and apples from June 5, after the Trump administration terminated its preferential trade privileges under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme.
Pamela Graviet, the senior marketing director at the California Walnut Commission (CWC), said the appetite of Indians for walnuts shipped from California has grown significantly in the last few years.
"Five years ago we entered the Indian market, and we have grown tremendously. There wasn't a single California walnut in the market then, and today there are about 10,000 tonnes that come into India," Graviet told PTI.
"In South Asia, India has become the largest market for California Walnuts because most of South Asia is not aware what a walnut is. India is unique because it has a local production (from Kashmir) and people do know what a walnut is, while in many other countries they are clueless," she said.
She, however, noted that the importation dropped after India changed its tariff rate policy for imported walnuts over a year ago.
"A year and a half ago, India changed the tariff rate for any imported walnut. Prior to that, the walnuts that were in shell would come into Indian market with a tariff rate of little over 30 percent.
"Then there was a change in the base rate, that any walnuts in shell would come at a rate of 100 percent. That slowed down the importation of walnuts not just from the US, but also from other countries that produce walnuts. So there's less of them coming in the country currently," she said.
Touching upon the ongoing trade tensions between India and the US, Graviet said they were hopeful that the negotiating teams will reach an agreement that would be beneficial for both the countries.
Last month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, during a lecture at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in the US, said trade negotiations between India and the US were going well and will conclude sooner than expected.
"I think the trade talks would conclude sooner. The talks are going on very well. Yes, we couldn't conclude it before the Prime Minister's visit (to the US) happened. But both sides are engaged with all commitment," Sitharaman had said.
"Trade tension is something that takes a lot of time to get resolved. The good news is that the Indian and the US sides are talking, discussing and try to work out a solution that benefits both the countries," Graviet said.
She said the growers in California were disappointed with India's decision to change its tariff policy.
The growers were disappointed that there was a tariff change, but we also recognise that countries have to do what is in their best interest, she said.
"Indian consumers are aware of the various health benefits of walnuts... Walnuts are one of the few foods that offer Omega-3 fatty acids, and with a high vegetarian diet, Indians tend to be extremely deficient of Omega-3 acids. "It is almost on a crisis levels according to your government...So we see tremendous opportunity here in India particularly with the vegetarian diet. It is one of those natural choices that fits into the diet," she added.
The California walnut industry, CWC, is made up of over 4,800 walnut growers and 88 walnut handlers/processors.
The walnut crop year is from September-August. India produces around 30,000-35,000 tonnes of walnuts in Jammu and Kashmir, according to official data.