SRINAGAR - Apple farmers and political activists in Indian Kashmir protested on Wednesday against the federal government's decision to remove an additional 20% duty on the fruit imported from the U.S. saying cheaper American apples will hurt local growers.

The decision to remove the additional duty was one of six World Trade Organisation disputes India and the U.S. resolved when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Washington in June but it was implemented only last week.

India had imposed the additional 20% customs duty on apples from the U.S. in 2019, on top of an existing 50% duty, as a retaliatory measure for Washington increasing tariffs on Indian steel and aluminium products.

"We appeal to the government to reconsider the decision," Bashir Ahmad, president of the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers and Dealers Union, said at the rally involving dozens of protesters in Srinagar.

Lowering the tax will hurt the livelihoods of more than 3 million people who depend on the $1.2 billion apple industry in Kashmir, he told Reuters.

“We are already suffering due to imported apples and were urging the government to raise import duties to support local growers, but they have done the opposite,” he said, adding that the industry had already suffered a 40% loss this year due to bad weather.

The Himalayan territory of Kashmir produced 1.7 million tonnes of apples in the fiscal year 2021-22, accounting for more than two-thirds of India's output, government data showed.

India imported nearly 4,500 tonnes of apples from the U.S. in the fiscal year 2022-23, down from a high of nearly 128,000 tonnes in the 2018-19 fiscal year, the data showed.

Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said on Tuesday that only the additional duty has been relaxed and the 50% duty and a minimum import price of 50 rupees per kg would remain.

The measure "will not result in any negative impact" on domestic apple producers, but will increase competition and ensure better quality for consumers, the government said on Tuesday.

U.S. apples will "compete on the same level-playing field as all other countries", it added.

India also imports apples from Turkey, Iran, Chile, Italy and New Zealand.

(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar; Writing by Krishn Kaushik; Editing by YP Rajesh and Alison Williams)