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Assam tea gets GI halo

Guwahati, Nov. 21: Orthodox Assam tea has joined the league of global products with the halo of exclusivity that comes with a Geographical Indications label.

Tea Board chairman Basudev Banerjee revealed the “good news” on the eve of the India International Tea Convention in the state capital. “The Geographical Indication Registry’s regional headquarters in Chennai confirmed to us on Monday that orthodox Assam tea can be marketed with the GI tag,” he told The Telegraph.

Orthodox tea is the second Assam product after muga silk to make the grade. The GI label is reserved for only a handful of generically identifiable products such as Swiss watches, Czech crystal, Champagne, Mysore sandalwood oil and Kancheepuram silk.

Goods must have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that place of origin for them to qualify as products worthy of the label.

Banerjee said orthodox Assam tea would benefit from the recognition of its geographical exclusivity in several ways. For one, it will protect the product from being replicated anywhere else with the same qualities.

Darjeeling tea got a Geographical Indications certificate in 2003, the first Indian product to do so.

The Tea Board chairman said Orthodox Assam tea could not have earned the recognition at a better time. “It has come at the right time, just when foreign buyers are converging on the state.”

Banerjee said it was because of the GI label that Darjeeling tea continued to do well in markets across the globe despite a slump in the Indian tea industry since 1992. “Assam orthodox tea now has a shield and will do just as well in the international market.”

Assam produces nearly 20 million kg of orthodox tea a year and many estates are uprooting old bushes and planting new ones to increase productivity. Banerjee said most applications for funds to replant sections of estates were from Assam.

The Tea Board will soon open an office in Dibrugarh.

Tea companies are hoping that the international convention will increase their visibility in the market. Sources said prospective buyers attending the convention would be treated royally.

The 40-member foreign delegation will travel to the heart of the state’s tea industry on Friday and stay in garden bungalows. They will have breakfast at Behora tea estate, touted as the “Rolls Royce among Assam tea gardens” for its look and location, before proceeding to the world’s oldest tea research station at Tocklai in Jorhat.

Banerjee said a tea-tasting session would be held during the convention. An International Tea Producers’ Forum will be formed to deal with issues common to all tea-producing countries.

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