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NEW DELHI : Taiwan and Iran have rejected as many as three containers of Indian tea due to phytosanitary issues and the presence of pesticides beyond permissible limits, two people aware of the development said.

Falling tea exports from Sri Lanka due to a financial crisis opened newer markets for Indian tea; however, recent rejections of Indian tea may cast a shadow on New Delhi’s efforts to capture new markets.

An official, one of the two cited above, said, however, that export rejections from India were extremely low.

“Only two containers have come back from Taiwan and one from Iran. The maximum residue level (MRLs) in Taiwan is too low and exporters are aware of the risk," the official said on condition of anonymity.

MRL is the maximum concentration of pesticide residue likely to occur in or on food and feeding material after the use of pesticides.

Exporters said that about 95% of the rejected Indian tea consignment have Quinalphos beyond the permissible limit.

“The container that got rejected in Iran was because of phytosanitary issue. Some unsanitary matter was found in that tea. It was not the fault of the producer, but the exporter is to be blamed," the official further added.

Queries sent to a spokesperson for the commerce and industry ministry remained unanswered till press time.

A former official of Tea Board of India said MRL for the chemical quinalphos is 0.01 mg per kg in India, making it among the strictest in the world.

The standard is much higher at 0.7 for the European Union and 0.1 for Japan, the person said, adding that if Indian producers manage to even bring the number to 0.1, none of the export shipments will get rejected.

Exporters said India is not the only country that finds it tough to export tea to Taiwan because of their strict MRL requirement. Vietnam and Chinese shipments also get rejected as they find it difficult to comply with Taiwanese norms.

One of the exporters aware of the development said the rejected container belonged to one of India’s largest tea exporters based out of Kolkata, without naming the company. “Only two out of 600 containers that his company shipped got rejected," the exporter said.

As far as Iran is concerned, Indian tea is well established in Iran, exporters said. Tea Board officials said Sri Lanka was the only competitor in the Iranian market, but with its financial challenges, the entire Iranian market is up for grabs.

According to commerce department data, the value of tea exports has slipped from $785 million in 2017-18 to $700 million in FY21. Experts pointed out that the Indian tea industry has seen limited reforms, and much of the production and exports are still done in the traditional way.

“There are countries that use non-tariff barriers, but Taiwan and Iran do not reject Indian tea because of that reason. China rejects large amounts of India CTC tea, citing chromium content. Indian tea has traces of chromium because of the stainless steel machinery that we use. And China does it to target India," an exporter who did not want to be named said.

Meanwhile, the official cited above said tea producers and sellers have been asked to strictly comply with quality norms laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The board has instructed authorities that no tea consignment that has failed on FSSAI test parameters should be released from the warehouse, he added.

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