New Delhi: A yearly tradition in India-Maldives ties was observed this week – but with a twist.

On June 20, Directorate General of Foreign Trade dashed off a notification with the following subject line – ‘Supply of essential commodities to the Republic of Maldives during 2018-19.’

Based on the 1981 trade agreement, India exports certain essential commodities whose quantities are notified every year. These items are exempt from any restrictions or prohibitions on Indian exports during the period of notification.

The latest notification, which is in retrospective effect from April, fixed the amount of potatoes, onions, rice, wheat flour, sugar, pulses and eggs that can be exported to the Maldives over the next one year.

While this is an annual ritual, this year has seen a drastic cut in quantity – which sources explained was due to a change in the calculation that is strictly in line with the trade agreement.

Till last year, India had allocated largely whatever amount the Maldives government had proposed, as per sources.

For 2018-19, India decided to make some changes. The Indian government finalised the quota “based on the average utilisation by the Maldives in the last three years”. Utilisation was measured as the actual amount ‘lifted’ by the Maldives of these commodities in previous years.

According to Article 9 of the bilateral trade agreement, quota allocations shall be finalised by the Indian government “with due regard to the supply availability and the overall need of the Government of the Republic of Maldives”.

The sharpest drop in allocation – 98.4% – has been for wheat flour. Just 946.21 metric tonnes of wheat flour has been allocated for export to the Maldives in 2018-19, compared to 59,442.17 metric tonnes in 2017-18.

The second highest decrease in a year-to-year comparison was in sugar of 97.1%. The lowest reduction among the seven items was in onions – a relatively paltry 49%.

The notification with a sharply reduced amount of exports of essential commodities has been issued in a backdrop in the downturn of relations. However, Indian officials assert that reduction is not a signal to the Maldives. Rather, they claim that the notification of the export quantity of essential commodities was a sign that New Delhi did not want to cause any hardship to ordinary Maldivians.