Tea tussle

16 May 2012 07:05 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Sri Lanka’s tea exporters yesterday said that they are committed to preserve the brand ‘Pure Ceylon Tea’, but stressed the country’s export share in the world tea market should be expanded to avoid deterioration of Sri Lanka’s position as a major tea exporting nations.

TEA Chairman, Niraj De Mel speaking to the media flanked by Melsna Tea Managing Director Anslem Perera (extreme left), Former TEA Chairman Jayantha Keragala (2nd from left) and Heladive Chairman Rohan Fernando (Pic by Kithsiri De Mel)

During a press conference held to explain their side of the story related to the ongoing debate about whether more varieties of foreign teas should be imported to Sri Lanka for blending purposes, Tea Exporters Association (TEA) maintained that importing more orthodox teas from other origins for blending could be the most practical method to increase Sri Lanka’s presence in the world market and increase tea export income.

“The government’s target is to increase export earnings by US $ 20 billion by 2020. For that the tea industry needs to increase its export income from the current US $1.6 billion to US $ 5 billion by 2020. If we are to achieve this target we have to increase the tea growing, which as we all know is not practical. So, we think that making Sri Lanka a tea hub would solve this issue,” TEA Chairmann Niraj De Mel said.

He also said that TEA firmly backs Treasury Secretary P.B Jayasundara and other parties who are talking on behalf of preserving the brand ‘Pure Ceylon Tea’.

“In recent media reports, TEA has been targeted in a very demeaning way. We have always been defenders of ‘Pure Ceylon Tea’ brand and there’s no doubt that we will continue to do so. What we are suggesting is not to import bad quality or ‘cheap tea’ as they put it. We want every tea that is coming into the country to be stringently regulated by the Ceylon Tea Board so that the quality is assured. What we are suggesting is to import more varieties of good quality orthodox teas which can be used to add value to the mediocre or low grade Sri Lankan teas, so that they can be re-exported at higher prices,” De Mel further explained.

Sri Lanka in 2011 imported 1.6 million kilos of teas of other origins for blending purposes and currently exports around 320 million kilos per annum.

“What we want is to increase this 320 million kilos to 400-500 million kilos, so that Sri Lanka can earn more export income. The global tea consumption at present stands around 3.8 billion kilos and Sri Lanka is only supplying 350 million kilos. Being a country which has been in this industry for nearly 200 years, is this the best we could do?” De Mel questioned.

The Chairman of Heladive Teas and former TEA Chairman Rohan Fernando noted that if the importation of teas of other origins is allowed, the authorities should keep strict control over the matter.

“What we want is to bring a part of world teas to Sri Lanka so that we can add value to our low grade teas and export it. Blending does not bring quality down,” Fernando added. Elaborating on Fernando’s Point, Managing Director of Melsna Teas, Anslem Perera said the whole purpose of blending is value addition and maintaining the quality of teas.

“Throughout 365 days of the year, you don’t get the same whether. So, maintaining the same quality of the tea leaves plucked though out the year is an impossible task. This is where the blending comes in, to make sure that the drinker will not feel any difference in the taste,” Perera said.

TEA Chairman also emphasized that the study the Tea Commission, which functions as an advisory body to advice Plantation Minister in relevant matters, did on making Sri Lanka a tea hub was not in any way a final document but more of a document of proposal which should be further discussed and fine-tuned. He also assured that in those proposals nowhere TEA has suggested to import substandard teas to the country or requested to relax regulations the Tea Board has stipulated in the process of importing orthodox tea of other origins to the country.

“We are not asking to open floodgates. Imports should be monitored and regulated by the Tea Board,” De Mel stressed.
According to Anslem Perera and Rohan Fernando, the ‘Pure Ceylon Tea’ brand which enjoys a niche and sold at premium prices will not at all be affected by liberalizing the tea imports to the country.

“Not all can afford pure Ceylon tea. There’s a huge market which consumes teas which are considered as mediocre and sold at lower prices. By making Sri Lanka a tea hub we can serve these customer segments. These teas will not be sold as ‘Pure Ceylon Tea’ with the Lion symbol, which Tea Board gives for high quality Sri Lankan tea. But still the export earnings will come to Sri Lanka” Fernando said.

He also assured that importation of orthodox teas of other origins will not impact the Sri Lankan tea growers. “This will bring better prices for their teas in the auctions,” he noted.

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