Tea importers in India to follow disclosure norms or face suspension: Tea board

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The Tea Board of India, seeking to curb the sale of illegally imported tea, has urged registered tea buyers to comply with disclosure norms such as declaring the country of origin and the full address of the importer or face suspension of registration.

It has come under the Tea board’s scanner that of the 60.35 million kg of tea imported in the past three years, only 23.43 million kg (mkg) has been re-exported, and the remaining 36.92 mkg has been untraceably sold in India.

Further, the Tea Board also learnt that tea imported into India was being sold without conforming to the guidelines laid out by the Food Safety Standard (Packaging & Labeling) Regulations 2011.

Coming down heavily on tea buyers selling tea illegally, the Tea Board has made compliance of disclosure norms mandatory and any violation will lead to the cancellation of the buyer’s licence, which will bar the firm from accessing future auctions and tea distribution.

Tea from Nepal is hurting

For the last few years, the unimpeded flow of tea from Nepal into the country has been a big problem.

It has particularly hurt the trade of Darjeeling tea, which saw a near 15-20 per cent drop in prices in 2020.

Goodricke Group, with tea gardens across West Bengal and Assam producing top grade teas from these areas, said that the prices of Darjeeling tea has fallen by 18 per cent.

According to a senior official of the Goodricke Group, it is estimated that as much as 16 million kg of Nepal tea enters India every year and of this nearly 3-4 million kg are of the orthodox variety.

While Darjeeling tea, in bulk sells anywhere between Rs 320 and Rs 360 per kg, the orthodox variety of Nepal tea is barely half the price.

And it is tough even for the discerning to tell the difference between Nepal’s orthodox teas, especially the llam variety and Darjeeling tea as it can easily substitute the latter in terms of looks, flavour and aroma.

Compliance must

The recent move insisting on compliance of disclosure norms, therefore will be greatly beneficial for the Darjeeling tea industry which has been suffering from the onslaught of Nepal teas for many years.

In fact in June 2020, the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) had asked for an immediate ban on the sale and distribution of imported tea in the loose format.

DTA had written to different officials, including the deputy chairman of the Tea Board of India, seeking their intervention in the matter of illegal tea making its way to India from neighbouring Nepal.

According to DTA chairman, Sanjay Prakash Bansal, trucks carrying consignments of tea from Nepal have been reaching warehouses in Kolkata and Siliguri and are being sold in the retail markets there.

These imported teas are not compliant to the required Indian food safety standards laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India.

“The teas imported from Nepal are sold in the retail markets, passing off as Darjeeling Tea. It is deceiving the consumers and also endangering their health. This move is in the interest of the consumers who have been paying more for cheap quality teas. And it will definitely help the Darjeeling tea trade,” Bansal said. 

Shampa Bahadur has been a business journalist for more than two decades. She has written for Business India, PTI Media TransAsia and India Infrastructure Publication Ltd among others. She has also written coffee table books. She can be reached at shampa@indoasiancommodities.in

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