Indian tariff argy bhaji

The West Australian
Mingenew farmer Murray Thomas inspecting his Neelan chickpeas.
Camera IconMingenew farmer Murray Thomas inspecting his Neelan chickpeas. Credit: Bob Garnant

A chickpea rescue mission is being deployed to India after the country slapped a surprise and costly 30 per cent tariff on Australian chickpea imports.

Australia’s new Agriculture Minister David Littleproud will travel to India for four days on Saturday to try to resolve the trade dispute, a move welcomed by chickpea farmers nationwide.

India is Australia’s fifth-largest export market and imports $1.1 billion of Australian chickpeas each year.

While Queensland and New JUSouth Wales remain the nation’s largest chickpea producers, planting 550,000ha and 480,000ha last year respectively, plantings were forecast to rise in WA this year.

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The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics December report forecast 6000ha would be be planted in WA this year, up from the 4000ha five-year average.

Pulse Australia chairman Ron Storey said India’s decision was a blow for the nation’s producers as it bought $1.4 billion worth of Australian exports last financial year.

He said the Indian Government should provide a tariff exemption for about 200,000 tonnes of Australian chickpeas and lentils en route to India when the tariff was announced in December.

“The Indian Government should provide an exception for Indian importers for product contracted and shipped prior to the new tariff being announced,” Mr Storey said. “Indian buyers and Australian sellers have contracted in good faith, but the prior conditions should apply to permit smooth execution of those contracts.”

The decision followed hot on the heels of a 50 per cent tariff imposed on Australian field peas late last year.

While domestic politics have been cited as the tariff’s rationale, some believe it was introduced to encourage local chickpea sales.

Mingenew farmer Murray Thomas’ family has been growing 200-300ha of chickpeas “on and off” for more than two decades.

He did not have chickpeas in transit to India when the ban was announced but is worried about the impact the tariff will have on his bottom line.

“It gives a lot of uncertainly, even though the price of chickpeas always fluctuates,” Mr Thomas said.

“We will still put them in but we hope by the time they are harvested, things will have changed.”

The Mingenew grower said chickpeas were his most profitable but risky crop, with prices reaching $800 a tonne last year.

“Without this tariff, they were the most profitable ... but the seed cost is high, chemicals are costly, and there is not a robust weed program for chickpeas,” he said.

“We have averaged about $500 to $800 a tonne over the years, but the tariff will have an impact.”

Mr Storey said growers could find comfort in strong demand for Australian pulses from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

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