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PM To Chair Meet On Farm Exports

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called a meeting of key ministers to discuss exports of farm commodities on April 30, Farm Minister Sharad Pawar said on Monday, as a series of policy changes have rattled markets recently.

The trade and food ministers of India, one of the world's biggest producers and exporters of agricultural commodities, will be at the meeting along with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Pawar said.

India's export policy on a number of commodities, including cotton and sugar, has witnessed several sudden changes of direction which reflect a wider malaise in the government as it tries to keep momentum on policy in the coalition.

Pawar, an influential ally of the Congress party which heads the fractious coalition government, has long lobbied to free up exports of sugar and grains and has on occasion been at loggerheads over export policy with the food minister, K.V. Thomas.

"We need to take a practical decision on farm exports," Pawar, whose voting support comes largely from the farming community, told reporters.

Pawar lobbied hard for sugar exports in the current season, which is expected to see ample production.

The latest tranche of 1 million tonnes of sugar exports under the open general licence (OGL) scheme was agreed at the end of March but the government has still not worked out what mechanism should be used to allocate sales.

At the beginning of March, Pawar was again critical of colleagues, this time when the government unexpectedly banned cotton exports after overseas sales hit a record.

Pawar said he had been kept in the dark and said he had called on the prime minister to revoke the ban - which was eventually eased to cover only fresh exports, while registered quantities were allowed.