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On Mission Russia to sell tea and more

Siliguri, Nov. 11: The first-ever official trade delegation from north Bengal is set to leave for a seven-day trip to Russia tomorrow with the hope of rekindling some of the lost business it had with the country, especially in tea.

Under the aegis of the Confederation of Indian Industry’s North Bengal zonal office, a 12-member team comprising representatives from the tea, tourism and education sectors here will be meeting government, trade and business personalities from Moscow and Ufa, the headquarters of the Republic of Bashkortostan.

“We will be holding face-to-face discussions with representatives of organisations that have shown keen interest in doing business and trade with this region of India,” said Kamal Mittal, chairman of CII’s North Bengal Zonal Council and leader of the delegation speaking from Bangkok. He will be joining the rest of the team in Delhi tomorrow.

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh currently on a visit to Moscow, the CII tour too is expecting sufficient attention.

The delegation will meet the director and members of the Bashkortostan Chambers of Commerce, the republic’s minister of external links, trade and entrepreneurship, and the business community as well as visit tea factories and distilleries.

“We shall be setting up a joint business centre in Bashkortostan in conjunction with the mayor of Ufa,” Mittal said. The latter part of the tour will be with business representatives in Moscow.

“Our main agenda there will be tea. The Russians have expressed interest in joint ventures in this sector, including takeover of a few faltering gardens (in north Bengal), where 50 per cent of the investment will be done by them,” said Prabir Seal, spokesperson of the delegation and a CII zonal council member.

“They have also shown interest in importing tea from north Bengal. Several aspects of the likely deals have already been taken up through email, like the type of tea (CTC and Darjeeling), packaging, transportation and the joint collaborations. What we are taking with us are the samples and the prices, which we will tell them across the table,” Seal, also a tea trader, said.

The other members of the team comprise Sravan Choudhury, Rajkumar Dalmia, Ravi Agarwal, K.K. Tiwari, Vikas Bansal, Pawan Poddar (all tea), Prasenjit Saha (tea and liquor), Sujit Raha, K.K. Kedia (real estate and education) and Laxmi Limbu Kaushal, head of CII North Bengal.

“The export of tea to Russia dropped in the mid 1990s, before which 50 per cent of brew that went to that country was from India. In 2006, of the 181 million kg of tea exported, only 20 per cent went to Russia. The Indian government has set a $10 billion trade turnover target with Russia to be achieved by 2010,” Seal said.

Tea tourism, floriculture, scope for bottling Russia’s favourite drink, Vodka, and several other areas will also be explored, Kaushal said.

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