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Tea Board’s overseas flavour weakens

Calcutta, July 28: The Union commerce ministry has decided to close down the Tea Board’s offices in London and New York and instead promote and export Indian tea through embassies.

However, the ministry has decided to keep the Dubai and Moscow offices operational. The exercise is aimed at reducing the expenditure of the government.

The move comes at a time when tea export from India is not picking up and the industry is trying to export more to the UK and European markets. In 2002, India exported 193 million kgs of tea. The industry wants to achieve the 200-million-kg export mark this year.

The London office of the Tea Board looks after tea promotion and exports in the UK and Europe.

“Sometimes the embassies do excellent jobs of clinching business deals for Indian tea. The Tea Board had earlier worked through the Australian and Japanese embassies to promote Indian tea. The co-operation was excellent. But this may not happen always. The embassies cannot always give dedicated service,” a Tea Board official said.

Value-wise, Indian tea exports to the UK has contributed around $ 33 million annually to the country, but this is just 19 per cent of the UK’s tea imports. Kenya accounts for some 43 per cent of the UK’s tea imports. UK traders look to India only when supply from Kenya dries up.

In particular, Assam tea is a good match for Kenyan tea and British dealers reach out for these varieties whenever supply from Kenya is affected. India exports nearly 20 million kgs of tea to the UK.

The Tea Board’s office in London is trying to open 25 authentic Indian tea bars by 2005. It has already opened a Chai Bazar in London.

The decision to close down the London office will also affect Indian tea exports to Europe, mainly to Germany. The office also helps to promote Indian tea in Italy and France.

The US is another market where India is exploring opportunities for quite some time now. Of the total requirement of tea there, India supplies only about 7 per cent. Lately, there have been many changes in the consumption pattern in the US because of increasing health concerns.

“We need to look at the US market with greater interest,” an industry expert said. Only a few years back, Manhattan had only seven tea rooms and the number has risen to 40 now, he added.

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