Guwahati: If the Indian Railways flags off container traffic to Pakistan next year, it is due to the fact that an Assam tea consignment travelled half the world before reaching Karachi via Singapore!
Pakistan imports some 140 million kg of tea annually, half of which comes from Kenya. Apart from other African countries, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India compete for the other 50%.
Set to roll: Assam tea consignments that reach Karachi via Singapore may be a thing of past.
India had last year exported 16 million kg of tea to Pakistan, up from 14 million kg the previous year. A major part of the tea exports was from plantations in South India while Assam tea accounted for only 2 million kg.
New Delhi has no agreement with Islamabad for railway freight traffic to Pakistan. Consequently, tea exporters take the sea route. Southern Indian tea goes directly from Kochi in Kerala to Karachi, but the costlier and stronger Assam tea has had to take a roundabout route.
According to Tea Board officials, the tea consignment from Assam travelled by train from Amingaon Container Depot near the state’s commercial capital Guwahati to Haldia port in West Bengal. It then took the sea route to Singapore, made a U-turn to Colombo and then to Karachi.
“The exercise was time-consuming, besides adding to the cost of trading tea,” said Union minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh here. “But this detour will be a thing of the past with Pakistan agreeing to allow container traffic by rail.”
Islamabad’s change of plan followed Ramesh’s discussion with Pakistan commerce secretary Syed Asif Shah earlier this month. As per the blueprint, the railways of both countries would be setting up container facilities on their side of the international border. “We expect the railways to set up container facilities at Attari soon,” said Ramesh.
Ramesh also said that his ministry has advised the tea industry to change its export strategy. “Exporters have been chasing volume, but it has to be a judicious mix of volume and value,” he said, adding, that quality would eventually stand Indian tea in good stead despite tough global competition.