The Garlic Minefield

Two things that you can do this month is plant garlic and rhubarb crowns. I was listening to Terry Walton on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 programme last week and Terry was planting garlic inside his greenhouse, each clove in its own polystyrene coffee cup.

Simply put a couple of holes in the bottom of the cup, fill it with compost, separate the garlic cloves from the bulb and plant each clove in a cup. When they are big enough and the weather is better they can be planted outside in their final growing position.

I thought, “I can manage that,” and so having paid attention to the part about making sure you use a hardy variety suitable for the British climate I decided to do a bit of research before heading off to the garden centre.

However, my research shed a whole new light on the innocent little garlic bulb. I did not realise I was entering into one of the most lucrative EU  smuggling commodities of all time!

Sweden has issued international arrest warrants for two Britons suspected of illegally importing 10m euros (£8m) worth of garlic into the EU via Norway. But why would criminals do that?

According to the BBC, Swedish state prosecutors claim to have cracked one of Europe’s most unusual but lucrative smuggling rings. Two British men are believed to have made millions of euros smuggling Chinese garlic from Norway into Sweden.

The EU imposes a 9.6% duty on imported foreign garlic.

The supplies are said to have been shipped to Norway – a non-EU state where no garlic import tax is applied – and then smuggled into neighbouring Sweden and the rest of the EU by lorry, and so avoiding EU import duties.

It’s not the first time garlic smuggling has made the headlines. In December 2012, a man from west London was sentenced to six years in jail for smuggling garlic from China into the UK. He told officials it was fresh ginger which is untaxed.

In March 2012, the head of Ireland’s largest fruit and vegetable producer was jailed for six years over a 1.6m euros (£1.3m) scam involving the importation of garlic. He avoided paying customs duty on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic from China by having the shipment labelled as apples.

So when did garlic start attracting criminals?

The real financial implications for the EU started in 2001, when a 9.6% customs duty on foreign garlic was introduced.

It was meant to prevent garlic growers in EU member states being driven out of business by Chinese farmers, who produce crops at knock down prices.

China produced 18,560,000 tonnes of garlic in 2010, accounting for about 80% of the world’s output. Millions of Euros have been lost over the years and most of the EU has been affected.

Well who would have know the humble garlic clove was so interesting?

Garlic facts

  • Garlic originated in Central Asia where it was probably used as far back as Neolithic times as a food flavouring and seasoning
  • It is mentioned in ancient Egyptian, Greek, Indian and Chinese writings
  • As a culinary and medicinal plant, it spread in ancient times to the Mediterranean and beyond, and used in Egypt by 3000BC
  • Also known by ancient civilisations of the Indus Valley – in what is now Pakistan and western India – from where it spread to China
  • Spanish, Portuguese and French introduced it to the New World
  • EU imposes 9.6% customs duty on foreign garlic
  • China produces about 80% of the world’s garlic, cheaply
  • Criminals can make millions of euros smuggling it!

Garlic

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