Siliguri, March 23: The Russians are seeking to undo some of the damage they had done earlier to India’s tea industry.
If some years ago they gave the industry a setback of sorts by dumping Indian tea for Chinese and Ceylonese varieties (one of the major reasons for the crisis in the tea industry here), a group of Russian businessmen are now interested in not only buying brew from the region but also investing jointly in the sector in north Bengal and Russia.
In an email to P.K. Saha, vice-chancellor of North Bengal University (NBU), the Russian Finance and Economic Institute (RFEI), Moscow, said the businessmen there were keen about India-Russia tie-ups in tea. They have also invited a delegation of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and NBU to explore the possibilities.
The development follows a recent visit by a team from the Russian government-affiliated RFEI to Siliguri — an initiative of NBU. It had then interacted with local industrialists and the CII’s north Bengal zonal council.
In the mail to Saha, which has been forwarded to CII’s north Bengal zonal council chairman Kamal Mittal, Bublik N.D., the coordinator of the Russian team, said the institute made a pilot analysis of the tea market back home and forecast a bright future for a tie-up.
“He has said their studies have found out that there are possibilities of increasing tea import from India three times,” Mittal said.
Russia has four tea factories where brew from the world over are blended and packaged. According to Bublik, RFEI is in the process of initiating a dialogue with the factory at Ufa on how the share of Indian tea can be increased in their dealings.
Bublik has urged NBU to prepare a report on India’s export scene. “The Russians are interested in direct trading with India,” said Saha.
At the same time, RFEI is concerned about the quality (it was because of this that Indians lost ground in Russia). It has asked NBU to study the quality aspect of export tea, especially that of the raw material used.
The Russians are also keen on diversification. “They are interested in innovations like iced tea, flavoured tea, canned tea and tea bags,” Saha said.
The vice-chancellor said he has forwarded the communiqué to the industry.
Welcoming the move, Mittal said: “It is just the beginning but definitely in the right direction. If our tea is able to regain the Russian market, the industry can hope for a turnaround.”
The RFEI said it has had discussions with Russian investors and has invited a delegation from India to Moscow for a direct interaction in April-May.
“I have been told that RFEI has also called up many tea planters directly,” Mittal said. “We have asked RFEI to send a formal invitation, following the protocol of international communications, so that we can process the formalities.”