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Coronavirus poses serious threat to State tea industry

By R Dutta Choudhury

GUWAHATI, March 18 - India lost its leader�s spot in tea exports some time back and dip in exports due to outbreak of coronavirus can have a serious impact on the tea industry. The problem in Assam will be even more acute as a number of tea gardens are facing financial crunch and if the sale goes down in the days to come, the consequences can be very serious.

Tea industry sources told The Assam Tribune that at one point of time, India was the leader in the world tea market, but over the years, the country�s position in the world tea market is coming down gradually and at present, India is fourth in the list. China tops the list and its exports comprise of 23 per cent of the total tea exports in the world, followed by Kenya with 17.7 per cent, Sri Lanka by 12.1 per cent and India by 9.8 per cent of total tea exports.

Sources admitted that if India�s tea exports come down due to coronavirus threat, the prices will fall and that would lead to serious consequences. Sources pointed out that at present, Iran is the biggest importer of Indian tea. But Iran is now facing serious coronavirus threat.

Moreover, Iran is also facing political turmoil. If the export of tea to Iran comes down because of these two factors, the Indian tea market will face serious impact. Moreover, the Middle East countries also import Indian tea and those countries are also facing coronavirus threat.

Industry sources said that excess production is one the major problem faced by the tea industry in Assam, while, the quality is also not maintained, which resulted in overall low price.

At the same time, the domestic consumption of tea is also not increasing . In 2018-19, the total production of tea in India was 1350.04 million kilograms and Assam produced around 52 per cent of it. The domestic consumption was around 1090 million tones. Sources also claimed that the cost of production in the countries like China, Kenya and Sri Lanka is much less and that is why those countries can sell tea at a much lower price than India in the international market.

Sources further pointed out that several major gardens in Assam already faced lockout due to financial constraints and if the exports come down, the consequences would be very serious.

Meanwhile, commenting on the issue, former Tea Board Chairman MGVK Bhanu said that if the exports are badly hit, the tea industry would face serious problem. He pointed out that quality tea meant for exports have a shelf life and those cannot be stored for a long time. He said that if the coronavirus outbreak lasts for a long time, the industry would feel the pinch.

Bhanu said that India lost its global leader�s position in tea exports due to various factors including weak marketing strategies, while, most gardens also failed to maintain quality. He further said that maintenance of safety standards was also an issue, particularly for the European buyers as they insist that no harmful pesticides should be used.

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