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Pakistan's mangoes challenge India in US

Three years after India's vaunted mangoes hit US shores, Pakistan is catching up. The first commercial shipment of its prized chausas arrived in Chicago last weekend and is now ready for retailing, setting up yet another rivalry. Yashwant Raj reports.

business Updated: Aug 18, 2011 22:39 IST
Yashwant Raj

Three years after India's vaunted mangoes hit US shores, Pakistan is catching up. The first commercial shipment of its prized chausas arrived in Chicago last weekend and is now ready for retailing, setting up yet another rivalry.

It will be retailing at a princely $80-100 for a box of 12, a price market experts believe is determined more by the emotional pull of the fruit than anything: am proud to be a Pakistani, and am just so glad chausas are finally here.

Indian mangoes - led by Alphonsos - started arriving here in 2007 in a deal widely touted as Mangoes-for-Harley Davidsons. The number of Harleys selling in India is still quite low, as are the Alphonsos here.

The first shipment - a sort of trailer - of Pakistani chausas landed two weekends ago to a blustery welcome from the Pakistanis here, led by their embassy. The reception ceremony in Chicago was a packed affair.

Over 95% of the US mango market is dominated by Mexican varieties. They are sweet and fleshy but lack the "complex flavours" of Indian mangoes, according to Jaidev Sharma of www.mangozz.com, the number one mango retailer here.

Sharma has been flooded with orders for Pakistani chausas, for now. Speaking for himself, he said, "I can't wait to open the boxes of mangoes lying in the storage area." They are too green now, and he checks on them as often as he can.

Are they better than the Indian mangoes? The jury is out so far, struggling with their patriotism.

A large number of the orders placed online on Sharma's website is from Indians who can't their favourites from India as the mango season there is technically over. For them, the Pakistani chausa will serve.

It's been a long and arduous journey for these chausas before they finally landed here. Two years of "strategic talks" went into it, said Pakistani ambassador Hasnain Haqqani at the Chicago gala marking the arrival of his favourite, and of the rest of his countrymen and women, mango, chausas.

Grown in orchards in Multan, Punjab, these chausas land in Chicago under a strictly controlled trade arrangement between the governments of the two countries and are immediately sent to an Iowa facility for irradiation.

For Indian mangoes, this process happens in India itself, at a facility in Nasik, where a US inspector - but funded by Indian government - check every shipment for compliance to US standards, before it ships.

Pakistan was unable to wangle the same deal because of deteriorating relations with the US. No American wants to be stationed in Pakistan given the severity of travel advisories repeatedly issued by the US state department.

That was bureaucratic tangle the two countries sort, especially as relations nosedived following the discovery of Osama bin Laden hiding in plain sight in Abbottabad, a town crawling with Pakistani military past and present.

Some in the Congress demanded - a demand easily conceded by an equally exasperated White House - all aid to Pakistan be linked to its adherence to US guidelines on the war against terror in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.

Some Congress members, mostly those considered sympathetic to the Pakistani cause - a speedily dwindling number - were sent boxes from the first shipment, hastily ripened by every means possible.

That's sweet, but sweet enough?