Thaw encourages Indian tea delegation to visit Pakistan

Thursday, 29 May 2003, 07:00 Hrs
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KOLKATA: Encouraged by the thaw in bilateral relations, a team of Indian tea growers is firming up plans for a visit to Pakistan next month to prop up sagging exports to that country.

The Indian Tea Association (ITA) decided on the trip to Karachi and Islamabad at a meeting here this week. Warren Tea's Gautam Bhalla will lead the delegation.

"We have written to the Pakistan Tea Association to find out when it would be convenient for them to host us," Bhalla told IANS.

"The delegation is hoping to travel around end-June or early July because that is the time when Pakistan buys its tea," said ITA chairman Bharat Bajoria, who will however not be making the trip.

Bhalla said Indian tea traders had travelled to Pakistan in 1997 and 2001. "The last time we had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for exporting seven to 10 million kg of tea. But unfortunately the deal didn't come through."

He said tea growers were eagerly awaiting Islamabad's decision on granting India most favoured nation (MFN) status as that could propel exports of the beverage.

Indian tea exports to Pakistan in 2002 stood at a measly 3.12 million kg in a market that demands 140 million kg. Most of Pakistan's requirement is met by imports from African nations.

In 2002, total Indian tea exports logged 193 million kg.

Bhalla said during their trip they would meet Pakistani tea importers in Karachi and then travel to Islamabad for "courtesy calls" on Pakistani government officials.

An ITA delegation will also travel to Russia early next month.

The Indian tea industry, which is reinventing its export business because of stiff competition from countries like Sri Lanka, Kenya, Indonesia and Malawi, is turning its focus away from traditional markets like Russia, the Confederation of Independent States (CIS) and Britain to look towards the Middle East.

The move is in line with a suggestion from experts, who say dependence on Russia and the CIS nations in Central Asia should come down and newer markets should be tapped as Indian companies export to only about 25 countries.

In the changing tea exports strategy, dependence on Russian markets will be brought down from 50 percent to 37 percent over the next five years.

Tea prices have slumped more than 30 percent in the past four years. India's tea output currently stands at about 850 million kg.

The Tea Board, a government agency, has hired two market research firms to survey tea consumption patterns in countries like Chile, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Germany.
Source: IANS
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