INDIA’S emergence as a significant voice on global policy issues is also getting reflected in the area of tea. The country, together with Kenya and Sri Lanka, is attempting to create a forum exclusively for tea producing countries, separate from the existing inter-governmental group on tea (IGG) — a United Nations body operating under the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The idea behind a separate forum is to have a body which will focus on forwarding the agenda of the producing countries. Other countries supporting the forum include China, Bangladesh and Indonesia. Speaking to ET, Tea Board chairman Basudeb Banerjee pointed out that the international market for tea had become heavily distorted in the last two decades. While the margins of tea producers have gone down, that of the retailers have increased significantly. “The idea behind having a separate forum is not to act as a cartel. We just want an arena where tea producing countries can discuss their specific issues of concern,” he said.
According to Kenyan Tea Board chairman Dunstan M Ngumo, the big six countries (India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China and Indonesia), were heavily in favour of constituting a producers group and it would be done soon. He said that the issue was discussed in details in the on-going India International Tea Convention and would be taken forward when the IGG meets in China in May next year.
Tea industry sources said that there was an increasing feeling among producing countries, that the IGG, which meets every two years, had become a heavily bureaucratic organisation. Moreover, it was also felt that the IGG was skewed in favour of the retailers rather than the producers. Mr Ngumo said that the new body would also function under the aegis of FAO.
There were a large number of issues such as setting minimum quality standards for tea, collaborating on research & development (R&D) and proper marketing of tea which the producers body would focus on, Mr Banerjee said. For instance, there was a need for a generic promotion of tea world wide as opposed to other beverages. “We could think of campaigns which would promote tea as a preferred drink world wide,” he said. To promote R&D, tea research authorities in producing countries could come together, Mr Banerjee added. India produces 956 million kg of tea annually and accounts for 27% of global production.
India’s exports touched 219 million kg last year.