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Tea forum makes history

- Group of 6 nations meet in Colombo, to raise issues unitedly

Guwahati, Jan. 22: History was made in Colombo yesterday as six tea producing countries joined hands to form the International Tea Producers’ Forum which will help them to raise issues of concern unitedly.

“It is a very significant development for the tea industry and one which will help it to put up a united forum to raise issues of concern,” chairman of Tea Board of India M.G.V.K. Bhanu told The Telegraph from Colombo. The ministerial level meeting that started yesterday concluded today. D. Purandeswari, Union minister of state for commerce and industry led the Indian delegation.

The setting up of the forum had been on the agenda earlier but somehow could not materialise due to various factors. One of the most important issues has been the issue of different levels of maximum residue levels (MRLs) in tea.

Sources said the problem of MRLs is an important one as different consuming countries have different standards of judging MRLs in tea and this will keep on happening unless there is an agreement among tea producing and consuming countries on the maximum residue level (MRL) in pesticides being used.

The meeting was presided over by plantation industries minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and organised by the ministry of plantation industries and Sri Lanka Tea Board. The main brief of the forum is to safeguard interests of tea-producing countries and deliberate and evolve collective solutions on problems affecting producers. The countries which signed the joint communique are India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Rwanda and Malawi.

Kenyan and Sri Lankan delegations were lead by ministers of the respective countries. Iran and China were represented by officials from respective embassies in Colombo but they did not sign. Vietnam did not attend.

“The idea is to make tea as the most preferred beverage universally through stimulating its consumption by facilitating and execution of generic promotional campaigns and raising awareness of the health benefits of tea” Bhanu said.

Five strategically important markets — the US, Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran and Egypt — have been selected for extensive and intensive promotional intervention through execution of five specific activities over five years. For the Indians, the activities identified are extensive promotion of the India Tea logo, engagement with the local trading community, consumer-oriented promotion, utilisation of social media and focus on export of value-added teas by putting in place infrastructure enablers.

A source said the constitution of ITPF was adopted subject to ratification by cabinets of respective countries and the forum will be initially headquartered in Colombo. Any country producing more than 2 million kg in a year can become a member of ITPF.

“Consuming countries may also be invited to the meetings in future but they will not have voting rights,” the source said. The forum was required as sustainability of tea industry is important for all producing countries because of employment, income generation, foreign exchange earnings, livelihood of workers and growers.

ITPF will be initially an independent body and in future may try for affiliation under Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Election of general council and executive committee will take place in the next meeting sometime in November.

Three tea producers of Assam were in the 15-member Indian delegation — Bidyananda Barkakoty (chairman North Eastern Tea Association), Rajib Barooah (chairman of Assam Tea Planters’ Association) and Prabhat Bezboruah (past chairman of Assam Tea Planters’ Association).

“It offers a platform for discussing issues worldwide and come to a consensus and these developments only strengthen the industry,” secretary of Assam Branch of Indian Tea Association Dhiraj Kakati told The Telegraph.