Calcutta, April 20: With Syria emerging as the next target of the US and the United Nations deciding to keep tea out of the ‘food-for-oil’ programme for Iraq, Indian tea exports to West Asia have run into a pall of uncertainty.
“West Asia had emerged as a major export market for Indian tea last year. But the war in Iraq and the recent developments in Syria may affect this year’s export,” said Basudeb Banerjee, deputy-chairman of the Tea Board.
The Indian tea industry was supposed to participate in a fair in Saudi Arabia in May. However, the fair was postponed because of the war.
“It is expected to take place in September-October now. We could have utilised this opportunity to promote Indian tea in Saudi Arabia, which has been identified as a focus area. This will obviously affect our exports to Saudi Arabia,” he added.
The Tea Board, through the external affairs ministry, is in touch with India’s permanent mission in the United Nations to sort out the tea issue under the ‘food-for-oil’ programme. The UN office has said that other items (excluding tea) are more important for Iraq now.
In the pre-war period there was a proper state procurement process through which India used to send tea. “It is not clear to us what will be the situation now,” Banerjee said.
Consignments of exporters like Limtex have been blocked.
Due to the uncertainty in West Asia, the Tea Board has not set any export target for the current fiscal.
The sluggish growth in Indian tea exports to traditional buyers like Russia and Germany has forced exporters to turn to markets in West Asia and post-Taliban Afghanistan.
Banerjee said that exports to the countries in West Asia and North Africa (Wana) have increased in the last two years. “We were somewhat able to bridge the gap that arose following the loss of the Russian market,” he said.
In 2002, India exported 52.24 million kgs of tea to the CIS as against 76.22 million kgs in the previous year.
In 2002, the Indian tea industry exported about 67 million kgs of tea to West Asian countries out of which 40.25 million kgs went to Iraq. “Exports to Iraq almost tripled last year,” industry officials said.
The officials added that it is not possible to develop an export market overnight.
The Tea Board had launched a promotional campaign called the World Gold Standard in Russia.
“It will take at least a year for the campaign to show some results. We have talked to Russian packeteers, who have agreed to sell 100 per cent Indian tea. We hope to see some results next year,” Banerjee said.