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Dip in imports dilutes tea firms’ cup of woes

Calcutta, Nov. 30: Tea imports have come down dramatically in the first six months of the current fiscal, providing a major relief to the domestic tea industry.

Tea imports have come down to 4.7 million kg in April-September 2003 from 16.90 million kg in the year-ago period — a reduction of 72 per cent. “This is good news for us. It also shows that India has been able to produce the quality of tea which importers were bringing in to re-export,” Tea Association of India president Suresh Bansal said.

Last year, over 80 per cent of imported tea were from orthodox producing countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Vietnam was the largest sourcing country accounting for 55 per cent of total imports.

Bansal said domestic consumption is also showing signs of recovery following the revival in the economy. “Monsoons had been good and there is an upward trend in purchasing power of people,” he added.

The industry has approached the finance ministry as well as the commerce ministry to provide funds for generic promotion of tea in the country. “We feel that this is the right time for generic promotion,” said Bansal. The tea industry, which is in dire need for funds, has also submitted a financial relief package to the finance ministry.

The industry has asked the finance ministry to make loans over Rs 50 lakh available at 9 per cent. This interest rate is now limited to funds up to that amount.

Bansal said, “As a major part of tea production comes from the big firms, we feel that this facility should be provided to loans exceeding Rs 50 lakh also.”

According to the industry, as tea has a longer crop cycle ranging between 9 to 12 months, the ceiling limit for two crop cycles should be extended to 18-24 months against 12 months for other agricultural crops for defining non-performing assets.

The industry has asked to reduce the prevailing import duty on machinery to 5 per cent for 18 months from the date of issue of the government notification in this regard.

Bansal added that finance minister Jaswant Singh has in-principle agreed that a financial relief package will be offered to the domestic tea industry.

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