Iran overtakes Russia as biggest buyer of Indian tea in 2019

Iran overtook Russia to emerge as the top buyer of Indian tea last year, after sanctions against the Islamic Republic halted imports other than specially negotiated deals, reports Bloomberg.

India and Iran have been trading through a rupee-based bank account to bypass restrictions imposed by the US. While this bilateral trade has boosted imports of Indian tea at higher-than-normal prices, the outlook for orthodox teas is uncertain, with even Lipton owner Unilever Plc weighing a sale of one of its best-known brands.

“This boost really has come because of the rupee-rial trade arrangement that we have had with Iran,” said Azam Monem, a director at McLeod Russel India Ltd, which is among the nation’s largest tea exporters to Blooomberg. “India’s diplomacy should allow us to remain a partner to Iran where we supply humanitarian aid, tea and rice.”

Overall, Indian exports dropped 3 per cent to 248 million kilogrammes last year as bad weather hit production in the crucial months of June and July. Prices rose 8.5 per cent to Rs 226 per kilogramme.

India also saw a 30 per cent increase in shipments to China, the world’s biggest producer of tea, due to rising demand in the green-tea-drinking nation for India’s black-tea brands. Indian leaves such as Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri are used in processing the ready-to-drink milk tea popular across Asian nations.

However, India’s tea industry faces headwinds in controlling costs, after an increase in wages last year. “Prices are unlikely to rise in 2020 unless consumption surges,” according to Vivek Goenka, chairman of the Indian Tea Association. “Any material increase in wage rates in the new season, without a substantial increase in tea prices, would prolong the stress,” said Kaushik Das, an analyst at rating agency, ICRA.

Meanwhile the Tea Board has announced that the district average price for green leaf during February in the Nilgiris will be Rs. 13.10 a kg. This has been fixed on the basis of the consolidated auction sale average of CTC teas from bought leaf factories during January. The new price is 74 paise more than Rs.12.36 per kg fixed for January. It is the highest price since November 2019. In February last year, the average price was much higher at Rs.15.87 per kg.

Shekhar Ghosh is consulting editor, Indoasiancommodities.com. He has edited and written for publications like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today, Outlook and many other international publications. He can be reached at shekhar.ghosh@indoasiancommodities.in.

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