Tea-growing nations look to set up joint forum

Tea-growing nations look to set up joint forum

Guwahati: The move to rope in all tea-producing countries under the common umbrella of the International Tea Producers’ Forum (ITPF), with the goal of collectively addressing the various issues of the tea sector, got off to a good start at the three-day India International Tea Convention, which began on Thursday.

The heads of the boards of two major tea-producing countries, India and Kenya, decided on a draft constitution for the proposed forum that would be circulated among tea-producing countries such as Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia and Vietnam, and African countries such as Egypt, Tanzania and Malawi. The global meet of tea-producing nations was organized by the government tea promotion body, Tea Board of India.

The official declaration of the formation of the forum, on lines of the International Coffee Organization, International Pepper Community, and Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is likely to be sometime in May, says Tea Board chairman Basudev Banerjee. Although a few rounds of discussions on the draft constitution were held, it was decided to circulate the proposed document and solicit feedback from tea-producing countries because Sri Lankan delegates could not make it to the meet.

Sicily Kariuki, managing director of the Tea Board of Kenya, which is heading the proposed ITPF, says tea producers across the globe have felt the need to come together to brainstorm over issues ranging from supply to price, and to quality.

While admitting there is already an Inter-Governmental Group (IGG) for tea under the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Kariuki says that it is a broad group, which includes producers and consumers, and has programmes that serve different groups. The IGG on tea lacks a mechanism to implement any programmes or push its agenda, she adds.

If for instance, the IGG proposes raising domestic tea consumption among various producing countries, it cannot guarantee that the recommendation would be enforced. Under the new, proposed order of things, the governments of the tea-producing countries will be under obligation to implement the decisions of the proposed forum because they are members of ITPF. It would be mandatory for member countries to report to ITPF about the steps they have taken to implement the forum’s directives and recommendations.

Globally, tea-producing nations face challenges of oversupply, productivity and quality, and feel the urgent need for uniform laws on pesticide residue levels. “Increasing domestic consumption is an important solution to the underlying problem of oversupply," Kariuki says.

India has the largest domestic consumption, where 70% of the 950 million kg produced annually is traded locally.

Kariuki admits local trade is very low in Kenya and once the forum comes into existence, domestic consumption would have to be raised to a certain level, and that benchmark would be set by ITPF. This would not only help in having a steady internal market, but also help insulate the industry from the vagaries of international trade.

“It is our endeavour to rope in all tea-producing countries because all of them have evinced interest in coming together," Kariuki says. “It is likely that the draft will be accepted when the member countries meet in China sometime in May on the sidelines of the IGG meeting. China also wants to be a member of the forum."