| Nath: A new start
Guwahati, Nov. 24: In the age of regional cooperation and free trade agreements, the tea industry should learn to live without the import subsidy cushion.
This was the message of Union commerce minister Kamal Nath to delegates present at the international tea convention here today.
Tea is one of the few contentious commodities under the proposed Indo-Asean free trade agreement. It has been suggested that India should bring down import duty on tea from 100 per cent to 50 per cent over the next seven to 10 years. Certain countries, including Vietnam, have, however, demanded that the levy should be brought down to 40 per cent.
“The industry will witness a gradual reduction in import duty which will happen in the course of the next few years and not immediately,” Nath said.
“The industry should come out of this duty protection syndrome. We work and live in a globalised world,” Nath said while speaking at the valedictory session of the tea convention.
On sharing of social costs in the tea industry, the minister said a committee, set up for this purpose, had submitted its report.
The commerce ministry will now initiate discussions with state governments and plantation companies.
The minister said rupee appreciation would definitely have a bearing on tea exports. But he hoped that over time the industry would make itself more competitive to tide over the problem.
At present, the country exports tea worth Rs 1,900 crore. The government is trying to improve the export turnover by increasing the production of orthodox tea.
With growing trade in tea with Pakistan, the minister said the two countries can collaborate and not just engage in commerce in so far as tea is concerned.
“We are reaching out to Pakistan. Tea is one area where India and Pakistan can not only trade but also collaborate. Economic opportunities are opening up. All this throws up new challenges,” he said.
Since the tea sector generated employment, the minister said, “yours is a key sector. The government is doing its job, but you have to take the initiative. The government is committed to this crucial sector but you will have to lead the way”.
Nath said the tea industry should also try to meet the challenges emanating from the evolving tastes of consumers.
“The past sometimes is no model for the future. The challenge is how do we simulate the future with changing habits, tastes, flavours and new consumers,” he said.
“In the global economy, there are uncertainties.. You have to see what the challenges are to your industry. Adopt innovative and creative thinking,” the minister said.