Tea tussle hots up; planters hit back

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Responding to the statement made by the Tea Exporters Association (TEA) on Tuesday, the Planters’ Association of Ceylon (PA) yesterday said that they are completely against the proposed importation of orthodox black teas of foreign origin to the country.
Issuing a press statement, the PA stressed that the big tea plantation companies as well as the tea smallholders are totally opposed to this move by the authorities and the TEA.

“The entire grower segment, represented by the Federation of Tea Small Holder Societies which comprises over 400,000 small holdings and producing 70% of the national tea crop, while the membership of the PA which accounts for the balance 30%, is totally opposed to the importation of Orthodox Black Tea,” the statement by the PA said. They also denied the claim by the TEA that the import of orthodox black tea would not impact adversely on Pure Ceylon Tea brand and noted that the membership of the TEA is no unanimous in the decision to import teas, as according to their knowledge, several leading member exporters are against this proposal, while several others are not convinced that this is the way forward.

“The PA is convinced that such a move will tarnish the long established and internationally acclaimed image of Ceylon Tea and it will preclude the use of titles and certifications Pure Ceylon Tea brand has obtained,” the statement said.

According to the PA, as Sri Lankan tea producers adhere strictly to TRI recommendations on the use of pesticides and chemicals, Ceylon Tea is considered as the world’s cleanest tea.

They also pointed out that Sri Lanka was the first tea growing country in the world to comply with the Kyoto Protocol in eliminating the use of methyl bromide, almost a decade before the international deadline.

They also questioned as to what guarantee would be given on the teas that will be imported are ‘ethically produced’, noting that as labour regulations in most tea growing countries are not as stringent and in some instances have regimented workforces.

The PA also queried about the fate of the ‘geographical indicators’ identified and registered internationally by the Sri Lanka Tea Board to highlight the diversity of Ceylon Tea, which has been the focus of the last two Tea Conventions.

“Considering the time, effort and investment that have gone into achieving these, it would cause irreparable and irreversible damage to stakeholders who have diligently obtained international certification, in striving to conform to meet the requirements of importing countries,” the statement said. Meanwhile, the PA also pointed out the likelihood of an adverse impact on demand at the Colombo auctions, combined with a foreseeable decline in prices, if the importation of orthodox teas of foreign origins is allowed.

“It will certainly spell doom to the producers without whom the trade cannot exist,” the PA said.

They also said that the TEA’S claim that the importation of orthodox tea is for value addition is ‘paradoxical’, stressing that “As the imported tea will, of necessity, be of a lower quality and hence any value enhancement would be to the benefit of the imported tea rather than the tea produced locally.”

“Furthermore, the imported tea will come at a cost and it would be interesting to ascertain the net increase in export earnings and what quantum of tea would have to be imported to reach the magical US$ 5 billion target by 2020,” the statement by the PA noted.

The PA also requested the authorities that if they want to preserve the ‘Pure Ceylon Tea’ image and ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry, they should support the capital development activities such as re-planting and factory upgrading, while assisting to establish more Sri Lankan owned brands and secure new markets for Sri Lanka.

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