INDIAN mango lovers in Britain can breathe a sigh of relief - the ban on the fruit which left them without their favourite summer treat has been lifted, following a campaign by UK and Indian authorities.
Prime minister David Cameron welcomed the decision, saying it was good news for “hard-working small businesses” in the UK who were affected by the EU ruling in 2014.
A European Commission committee in Brussels voted to lift the ban of the popular Indian Alphonso mangoes, regarded as the king of fruits, on Tuesday (January 20).
Traders told Eastern Eye of their “delight” after losing thousands of pounds in sales last year.
The ban, which was introduced by the commission last May, followed the discovery of plant pests in shipments which are said to threaten crops in Europe and the UK.
Cameron said he was “delighted” Britain was able to help resolve the matter.
“Not only is this good news for trade between the UK and India, it’s also good news for the many consumers and hard-working small businesses in the UK who were affected,” he said.
“I am delighted the British government was able to play its part in helping to get the ban lifted.”
Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East, and chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, who led the UK campaign to revoke the ban, said it was “a great day” for mangoes.
“What it shows is that at last the mango has trumped the Brussels sprouts,” he said.
“It’s been a long campaign, which has encompassed signatures, petitions, letters to MPs. The lesson, of course, is that the EU should not be making decisions without consulting first.”
Vaz first raised the issue of the ban in the UK parliament after concerned traders in his constituency said they were “ruined” by the decision.
He went to Brussels to meet the agriculture commissioner in the EU and other senior officials and even sent one of the last boxes of of Indian mangoes directly to Cameron at Downing Street.
“David Cameron was personally supportive,” said Vaz. “On the last day before the ban (came into force), I delivered a box of mangoes to number 10. That’s when they realised they were being banned.
“Cameron’s personal support has resulted in people taking it seriously. He must have put pressure internally and said ‘get this sorted’.”
Vaz also wrote to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and ministers in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra.
He added: “Modi came into power two weeks after the mangoes were banned. I told David Cameron, ‘I’m sure you wouldn’t like the first conversation you have with Narendra Modi to
be about mangoes being banned.’
“Businesses in the UK were ruined by this decision - a lot of money was lost because of mangoes not arriving. Manufacturers and agriculturists in Maharashtra, in particular, were devastated by what was going on because they were ready to export the fruit. This should never have happened.”
Monica Bhandari, a mango importer from wholesalers Fruity Fresh in west London, started an e-petition, which garnered over 2,500 signatures, calling for the ban to be lifted.
“I think the decision has vindicated how the ban shouldn’t have taken place in the first instance and that the Indian authorities already put in place what they needed to,” she said.
“Mangoes bring people to our shop. People come here for the summer because of the mangoes and they buy other things because of it.
“They [Alphonsos] are a very special fruit. There is no other mango that tastes like them and smells like them. There’s nothing that comes close.
“Because the mango business is a short season, from April to June, with a ban you lose all the trade for those months. It has a big impact. We did try and mitigate that by getting mangoes from other places like the Dominican Republic but they didn’t have the same reception at all with our customers.”
Bhandari, who will get her first batch of Indian mangoes in March, said the biggest challenge now was to change public perception.
“Some people think it was banned because of health reasons. It was a plant health issue, rather than human health, so we will have to work on the public perception.”
Rohit Shah, who runs the Bhavins groceries store in Tooting, south London, said he had lost £1,500 a week last year during the mango season.
“When it’s mango season, people go crazy for it. But now people are saying
‘What’s going on? Why are we not getting our mangoes and why are we getting some other country’s mangoes?’
“My customers keep asking me about this ban so I’m very happy about the decision.”
Priti Patel, MP for Witham and Cameron’s Indian diaspora champion, said the ban on Alphonso mangoes has been devastating for many businesses in the UK and growers in India.
“It has also deprived the Indian diaspora and the rest of the UK of being able to enjoy great tasting mangoes.
“I have been working closely with colleagues in the government to secure the lifting of the ban and today’s news is welcome. However, we all now need to get behind Alphonso mangoes to ensure that they once again have the demand needed to support growers and businesses trading with them.”
Justice minister Shailesh Vara MP added: “This is the right decision and is welcome news for the Indian community as well as for all those who enjoy their mangoes. It is particularly good news for the traders who had been selling the mangoes for many years before the ban was introduced.
“I am pleased to see that common sense has prevailed.”
Imports of mangoes will be able start again in about a month’s time, but other produce such as Indian aubergines, two types of squash, and a leafy vegetable will remain restricted.
The EU’s Food and Veterinary Office in a September audit found “significant improvements” in quality in the shipments of Alphonso mangoes.
India assured the EU it would put in place measures to ensure consignments were free from pests, the European Commission said in a statement.
“The EU ban was due to remain until December 2015, but today’s vote shows the hard work of the Indian authorities has paid off,” environment minister Lord de Mauley said in a statement.
After Tuesday’s vote, the EU said: “India has also provided assurances that appropriate measures are now available to ensure that the exports of mango fruits are free from quarantine pest, like the fruit flies not known to occur in the Union.
“The measures will allow the import of mango fruits before the start of the next import season in March 2015,” the statement said.
The EU accounts for more than 50 per cent of total exports of fruits and vegetables from India. The UK is the main destination, followed by the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.