Kochi: The global umbrella organization for tea-growing countries, International Tea Producers’ Forum (ITPF), which seeks to address problems in the tea business through concerted, joint course of action, is scheduled to meet between 22 and 24 November in Guwahati for the India International Tea Convention.
The meeting will take a serious look into the problem areas in tea business. ITPF seeks to be the equivalent of Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), the Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries (ANRPC), the International Pepper Community (IPC), and the International Coffee Organization (ICO). The plan to form ITPF was mooted by India on the sidelines of the recently concluded International Tea Convention in Colombo.
India, which is the highest tea-producing country churning out around 950 million kg annually, promoted the idea and received a formal nod during the Colombo conference, which ended last week, said J.K. Thomas, vice-chairperson of India’s trade promotion body Tea Board and United Planters Association of South India (Upasi) president. Thomas headed the Indian delegation at the Sri Lankan meeting.
Thomas said with the exception of tea-producing countries from South America, who did not attend the convention, most of the major tea-producing countries including India, China, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Japan, Indonesia, Tanzania and Malawi, met prior to the convention and decided to go ahead with formation of ITPF.
At the Guwahati convention, member countries decided to finalize broad guidelines for ITPF. The member countries would look at issues such as fund-raising, scrutinizing laws, and choosing a person to head the forum. ITPF, which would be an inter-governmental organization, also would need approval of the governments of the member countries.
Ullas Menon, secretary general of Upasi, said there was a general consensus among member country delegates about the need for a body like ITPF.
It was during the 2004 Inter-governmental Group (IGG) conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Bali that India first proposed the concept of such a body. A major problem facing the tea industry is that supply exceeds demand and that, in the long run, would pull down prices.
According to FAO projections, global black tea production is expected to reach 2.97 million tonnes (mt) by 2016 from the current 2.5mt. On the other hand, global tea consumption is expected to be around 2.8mt, with producing countries consuming 1.4mt and others around 1.3mt.
There is an urgent need to jointly tackle the surplus supply situation, which could become worse by proposals that would extend the tea production to other areas with the support of global funding and the United Nations. Already, the rising cost of tea production is affecting the profitability of growers. With measures being taken to increase capacity, optimize inputs, streamline marketing channels and improve infrastructure, production costs would come down, but also lead to a grave oversupply situation.
Tea-producing nations are being forced to take up joint campaigns to boost consumption, both domestically and through exports to new markets. With strict quality norms imposed by importing countries, including fixing standards for maximum residue levels (MRL) for pesticides, there also is the need to develop a standard code, without which importing countries could enforce different norms, which could harm tea trade, Menon says.
In related news, a meeting of tea growers in South India, convened on Monday in Coimbatore by the Tea Board, in the wake of the poor response from the South to the special purpose tea fund (SPTF) for replantation, agreed that the hike in replantation cost for the South from Rs2.73 lakh per hectare to Rs3.44 lakh is insufficient.
Menon said Basudev Banerjee, chairman of the Tea Board, promised to look into the concerns of the growers that include the high labour cost for replantation and review of other associated costs. In addition, the cost for rejuvenation, fixed at Rs95,000 per hectare, may be revised upwards, he added.