The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tea import tastes bitter

Calcutta, Sept. 20: The domestic tea industry is worried over increasing tea imports from Vietnam, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Total tea imports in 2002 stood at 21.89 million kg at an average of Rs 45.95 per kg against 16.64 million kg in 2001 at Rs 55.72 per kg.

“As most of these imports are cheap and re-exported, it is affecting India’s quality image at a time when domestic tea exports are showing a downward trend. This apprehension assumes significance in the light of the past experience in Russia where cheap tea was sold as Indian tea,” said Indian Tea Association (ITA) officials.

ITA has approached the Tea Board of India so that the board can take up the matter with the Directorate General of Foreign Trade to effect necessary procedural amendments towards incorporating “multi-country origin” declaration for products going out as blends of Indian and imported tea.

This will give a clear idea to the importing country about the origin of the re-exported tea blends.

Tea Board officials said, “We are looking into the matter. We feel that this is a matter of serious concern to the domestic tea industry.”

Over 80 per cent of imported tea are from orthodox producers like Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, with Vietnam accounting for 55 per cent of total imports. In 2002, 12.02 million kg of tea was imported to India against 5.33 million kg in the previous year.

“Imports are increasing every year by 3 to 4 million kg at a cumulative rate of 30 per cent since 1999. The same trend is continuing this year as well,” said an industry source.

He said this showed that there was a dearth of orthodox tea of certain grades and quality in India, which are sought after by markets like Iraq, Russia and UAE.

Reduced level of orthodox tea production and inconsistency in production pattern in north and south India have resulted in Sri Lanka emerging as a more dependable supplier.

ITA has been advocating more orthodox tea production for a long time. “Although some headway has been made in recent years, a lot remains to be done,” ITA officials said.

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