Vimala Vasan

Abu Dhabi, June 14

INDIAN tea exports to the West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region rose significantly in 2004 to 61 million kg (mkg). Prospects for for 2005 are good as both Iran and Egypt have reopened their markets for imports and economic activity has resumed in Iraq.

Tea exports to the WANA region jumped to 61.7 million kg in 2004 compared to 42.2 million kg in 2003. A sizeable increase in exports to Iraq and Iran was the primary reason for the big rise in exports last year, Ms Priya Kumar, Director, Indian Tea Promotion Board, WANA region, who recently took charge at the Dubai office, told Business Line.

Ms Kumar said exports to Iran went up from 1.5 mkg in 2003 to 3.3 mkg in 2004 after Iran took a decision to lift a ban on tea imports in the last quarter of 2004. "Iran was once a major market for Indian tea and with the recent lifting of the ban, our focus will be on tapping this big market with renewed vigour in the coming period," she said.

Iraq, which was a big market for Indian tea before the US attack, has shown a significant increase in business with exports increasing from 13.4 mkg in 2003 to 24.4 mkg in 2004.

"The situation is improving in Iraq and we hope to tap this potentially large market as part of our plans in the coming months," Ms Kumar said.

Another major development that could have a positive impact on tea exports to the WANA region this year is the re-opening of the Egyptian market. Egypt, as a COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) member, had hiked import duties on Indian tea to 30 per cent, making it uncompetitive compared to Kenyan and other teas.

In December 2004, Egypt slashed the import duty to five per cent. "This move will definitely help us boost exports of CTC tea to Egypt," Ms Kumar said. Other countries in the region such as Jordan, Syria and Turkey had also shown good growth in terms of exports last year. The United Arab Emirates continues to remain a major market in the region, with exports going up to 24.7 million kg in 2004 from over 23 million kg in 2003. Exports to Saudi Arabia dropped slightly, but the Yemen market has shown improvement last year, she said.

The WANA region is the second biggest market for Indian tea exports after Russia. A total of 180 million kg of Indian tea was exported last year, of which nearly 62 million kg was exported to the WANA region.

Ms Kumar said recent order on tea distribution and measures by the Indian Government to curb malpractices like mixing Indian tea with cheaper varieties and to improve the quality of Indian tea marked for exports and re-exports would have a positive impact on the profile of Indian tea in the global market.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 15, 2005)
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