Guwahati: India, the world’s largest tea grower from plantations in southern and northeast highlands, aims to boost exports to Pakistan from a record crop this year, an industry body said on 30April.
A team of planters and traders who visited the tea markets of the Pakistani cities of Lahore, Peshawar and Rawalpindi returned on 29April. They were seeking opportunities to market India’s black tea varieties from the lush hills of northeast India, famed for Darjeeling tea and from southern Kerala and Tamil Nadu states.
Due to trade barriers caused by decades of bitter conflict between South Asian rivals, green tea varieties from Sri Lanka and Kenya are more widely shipped to Pakistan and Afghanistan. But with peace process underway since January 2004 and falling customs barriers, Indian tea industry hopes to expand trade substantially.
“Some giant steps were made during the recent visit with a proposal to set up a tea container depot and the response has been very positive,” said Dhiraj Kakaty, secretary of the Indian Tea Association’s branch in Assam state.
The insurgency-hit northeastern state of Assam accounts for over half of the tea production in India, which recorded a jump in exports this year after a nine-year slump.
Last year, Pakistan imported about 16 mn kg (35.2 mn pounds) of tea from India to meet a shortfall in its domestic use of 170 mn kg.
The industry body has also set up marketing bureaus in Cairo and Tehran as part of its drive to boost exports to Egypt and Iran. “We are getting queries from all these countries and we hope to do some good business,” Kakaty said.
Buoyed by export successes this year, India’s federal ministry of commerce will organize an international tea festival in Assam’s main city of Guwahati in November.
“We are expecting delegates from Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom for the festival that is expected to help improve exports of tea,” the official said.
India’s $1.5-bn (Rs6,750 crore) tea industry has been in a slump since 1998, with prices and exports plummeting because of weak domestic demand and increased international competition.
But last year it produced a record 955 mn kg, 27 mn kg more than in 2005, Kakaty said. Exports went up by about 8 mn kgs to 200 mn kg.
Now, weekly auction prices are on the rise as well. Prices for good-quality Assam tea last week hit Rs73 a kg after languishing below Rs65 last year. Last year, the Indian government announced a Rs50 bn package to help the industry replant tea bushes and boost quality.