U.S. Tells India To Play Fair With Cola Companies

Undersecretary for International Trade Franklin Lavin has sent a letter to the Indian government urging fair treatment for PepsiCo and Coca-Cola after a health scare led to bans in several states, said embassy spokesman David Kennedy on Sept. 12.

Kennedy said that the letter, leaked in the Indian press on Sept. 12, was sent approximately three weeks ago and would not be released to the public.

The companies have been under attack in India since a New Delhi environmental group last month released a report claiming high levels of toxic chemicals in a range of drinks from their local bottling plants. The environmental group's study led to a backlash in India with one state banning Coca-Cola and Pepsi drinks while five other states barred them from sale in schools and government offices. The opposition demanded a national ban while protesters went on coke-bottle smashing sprees.

Shortly after the southern state of Kerala imposed a total ban, Lavid told APF in August, "This kind of action is a setback for the Indian economy. In a time when India is working hard to attract and retain foreign investment, it would be unfortunate if the discussion were dominated by those who did not want to treat foreign companies fairly."

Coca-Cola and Pepsi, who account for 99% of India's huge soft drinks market, have insisted through newspaper ads and public statements that their locally bottled drinks meet international safety standards. The Indian government has since said the report by the Center for Science and Environment was "inconclusive" but the state-level bans on their products remain in place amid continued consumer wariness.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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