Indian tea exports have touched a record high of 240.7 million kg in 2017, almost surpassing the previous high of 241.3 million kg achieved in 1981, according to provisional figures released by the Tea Board. Exports rose 9.3 % to US$726.7 million in value terms.
Five importing countries, which include tea exporters i.e. Sri Lanka and China, helped India reach this export level. The biggest importer was Egypt, which has increased imports by 166% followed by Sri Lanka, whose imports jumped 84.8 % and China to which Indian tea exports rose 50%.
Indian black tea, which was first sourced from China by the erstwhile British planters centuries ago, is winning back its country of origin (China) with a record jump in exports in 2017. The shipment of black tea from India to China has taken a big leap to 8.3 million kg in 2017 from 5.5 million kg in 2016, according to the Indian Tea Association (ITA). Only Sri Lanka has beaten India in the Chinese market with an export figure of 9.9 million kg in 2017.
Traditionally, the Chinese people are the greatest consumer of green tea, but its youths are sipping more black tea imported from India. Witnessing an encouraging export demand from China for the last few years, the Tea Board of India has set a fresh annual export target of 15 million kg by 2020.
The Board has been canvassing for inking a preferential trade agreement in tea between China and India. Tea Board Chairman Prabhat Kamal Bezboruah said, “China is soon becoming a major export market for black tea.”
China produces around 2,600 million kg of tea annually, while India produces around half of that, but both countries should look at complimenting each other's business, said Bezbaruah. “Both the countries should work out a preferential trade agreement over tea so that they have to pay lower duties. India and China are not competitors as far as tea is concerned. This will benefit both,” Bezbaruah said.
About 80% of China’s annual tea production is green tea and 18% Oolong variety, while 98% of the tea produced in India annually is black tea. However, stricter non-tariff barriers, quarantine parameters and difference in lab testing methods for pesticide and fertiliser residue in tea leaves have posed a big hurdle for growth in exports of Indian tea products.
There is an excellent potential for selling India’s Darjeeling, specialty and CTC tea in China. If Chinese quarantine regulation can be well-negotiated, India’s tea exports to the country could potentially be greater than 20 million kg per annum.