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Pakistan ready to greet tea team with duty cut

Calcutta, June 17: A 5 per cent duty cut will greet the 14-member tea delegation that will land in Karachi on June 28 for a four-day conclave aimed at boosting exports to Pakistan.

“This is a piece of good news for us,” Gautam Bhalla, chairman of the export sub-committee of the Consultative Committee of Planters’ Association and a co-leader of the delegation, said after the Pakistani government slashed import tariff from 25 per cent to 20 per cent.

The eagerness of local tea companies to revive trade links with Pakistan has been matched by the growing fondness for Indian tea in that country. Already, large tea trading houses like M. M. Ispahani, Farooqi Tea company, Kohinoor Tea Company, Wahid Iqbal Syndicate and Tapal are knocking on the doors of Indian producers. “The response is overwhelming,” Bhalla said.

The delegation will comprise representatives from both north and south India. “Our aim is to negotiate for Dooars and Terai teas as well,” said Bhalla.

All the big names in Indian tea like Tata Tea, Warrens, Hindustan Lever, Eveready Industries, George Williamson, Goodricke Group, Dibrugarh Tea and Harrisons Malayalam will hold talks with the Pakistani tea traders.

Other smaller firms like Laxmi Tea, Choibari Tea Company and Bajrangpur Tea are also part of the delegation. The chairman of the Indian Tea Association and his counter-part in the United Planters Association of South India will accompany the team.

Bhalla said India hopes to clinch a deal to export about 10-15 million kgs to Pakistan. Pakistan officially lifts 3-3.5 million kgs of tea from India. “Out of this, two-thirds is Assam tea and one-third is south-Indian tea,” said Bhalla. However, Indian tea finds its way to Pakistan via Dubai as well, though there are no official estimates on its volume.

Pakistan had always been loyal to quality Indian tea. Pakistan, the third largest importer of tea in the world, consumes as much as 150 million kgs annually. Moreover, the economic spread there allows a sizeable portion of the population to afford quality tea at matching prices.

Kenya supplies almost 55 per cent of Pakistan’s total tea import. However, every time the crop fails in Kenya, Pakistan imports matching quality tea from other countries. Assam tea has been a successful substitute.

According to global crop figures, the Kenyan crop this year is failing. In the first four months of this year, Kenya has already lost 7.3 million kgs over the corresponding period of last year. Given the signs of adverse weather conditions, chances of Kenya losing a sizeable crop this year cannot be ruled out.

“That is another reason egging on Indian producers towards Pakistan as the crop here is around 12 million kgs more than last year,” an industry source said.

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