Since 2003, the central government had sanctioned around 60 AEZs on paper but not one had taken off successfully, said Jairam Ramesh, Union minister of state for commerce & industry.
"AEZ is a discarded concept, it has failed", commented Ramesh.
He urged the eastern states like West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar to prepare a detailed project report on agri exports, to identify anchor products to be exported and the social organisation to bring the producers together, indicate private entrepreneurs keen to invest in the chain, and name export markets that could take the product.
"Once we have the project reports in hand funds can be raised through state and central government resources and also from financial institutions. These are extremely bankable projects," Ramesh added.
Maharashtra has successfully exported table grapes to Europe in a project that involved 40,000 farmers supported with infrastructure by state and central governments, Ramesh stated.
Two farmers' producers companies have been floated in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam to export organic turmeric and ginger, in a JV format, where the farmers held 59 per cent.
Their equity contribution was in the form of land, while the Spices Board and Centre came up with money for equity, said Ramesh.
Eleven projects worth Rs 68 crore (Rs 680 million) had been sanctioned by the Centre in recent years to add value to agricultural produce.
The money would be implemented in the next 12 to 18 months, Ramesh said.
"Agri exports can be the major transforming vehicle for eastern India which definitely needs industrialisation. Singur is the catalyst to that change, and I see agri-exports in the same category," Ramesh commented.
West Bengal lacked a market mechanism to cash in on its agricultural produce, said Budhdhadeb Bhattacharjee, chief minister of the state.
Apart form infrastructure development for the preservation of goods, significant value addition exercises was required, he admitted.
"At present we can add value to only 3 per cent of our produce and this needs to improve," commented Bhattacharjee.
The expected growth in agricultural exports targeted in the Eleventh Plan was around 4. 1 percent, and that would require West Bengal to double the growth attained in the Ninth and Tenth Plans, said Amit Kiran Deb, chief secretary of West Bengal.
Agri exports account for 10 per cent of the total exports of the country currently.
The share had come down significantly since 1990's, when it contributed around 20 per cent to total exports.