Ministers of nine tea producing countries will meet for two days starting Monday in Colombo to discuss the setting up of the International Tea Producer’s Forum to address the concerns of tea producing and consuming countries.
India will be represented by a 15-member delegation led by minister of state for commerce D. Purandeswari. It will include Tea Board chairman M.G.V.K. Bhanu, Indian Tea Association chairman A.N. Singh, North Eastern Tea Association chairman B. Barkakoty and Assam Tea Planter’s Association chairman Rajib Barooah.
“It is a forum through which tea producing countries can exchange their concerns with consumer countries. The issue of maximum residue limit is also important,” Bhanu toldThe Telegraph.
The pesticide residue problem is regarded as significant in the tea industry, with different tea producing countries having different norms for the maximum permissible levels.
Regarding India, concerns have been raised time and again on the high MRLs (maximum residue level for hazardous substances) of pesticide residues in teas produced in the country.
“When we export we have to conform to international conditions and there is no way out,” a tea industry official said, adding that the issue was a complex one, for which discussions were on.
The international focus now is on harmonising the MRLs across all tea producing countries and this is one of the main reasons behind formation of the forum.
The forum is also being formed to safeguard interests of tea producer countries and deliberate and evolve collective solutions on problems affecting producers.
Sources said the idea of setting up of the forum had been doing the rounds since 2006 and was raised at various international fora.
Last year, on the sidelines of the 20th Inter-governmental Group on Tea meeting held in Colombo, delegates of the 10 tea producing countries had passed a resolution to proceed with formation of the forum. This group is a Food and Agriculture Organisation subsidiary.
A ministerial level meeting, that was supposed to be held in Rome prior to the meeting of the Committee for Commodity Problems on May 28-30, 2012, could not be held because of non-receipt of confirmation from many of the member countries.
That meeting is the one being held on Monday and ministers of India, Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, Rwanda and Vietnam will be attending it along with Kaison Chang, secretary of the Inter-governmental Group on Tea based at Rome and the FAO country representative residing in Colombo.
Another idea behind creating the forum is to globally position tea as the most natural and healthy beverage by promoting its consumption through generic promotional campaigns and raising awareness about its health benefits.
It will undertake market studies, surveys and research projects aimed at addressing specific issues concerning tea in general or any variety of tea, including, but not limited to, identifying tea consumption patterns and assessing consumer preferences across continents and countries and disseminating the results of such studies and surveys for the benefit of all members.
It will also coordinate technical cooperation, sharing of technology and expertise among member countries and undertake and facilitate programmes for providing training to members or their executives in various aspects of tea marketing in different geographical segments.
India is the second largest tea producing country in the world with a global market share of 23 per cent after China, which contributes about 32 per cent. It is, however, the fourth largest exporter after Kenya, China and Sri Lanka. The tea produced by five major countries in the world, including India, in 2011 was 3,422.61 million kg.