Tea trade calls for 'less restrictive' import policy
The head of the Colombo Tea Traders' Association (CTTA) has suggested
the government go for a limited opening up of tea imports to test the
tea hub concept, the exporters have suggested as a way on increasing
value added exports.
CTTA, Chairman, Anselm Perera said there was still no resolution of
the tea hub concept which exporters have long called for. "Positive
agreement has eluded us as many looked at it through a little pinhole
and some have personal agendas," he said in his address to the 122nd
Annual General Meeting of the CTTA on Friday. "Others failed to consider
the hub concept in a wider perspective."
Small holders and some regional plantations companies fear auction
prices would be badly hit if tea imports are liberalised to enable
exporters to do more blending and re-export, Perera said.
"Now tea imports are allowed within restrictive parameters. We could
continue with a less restrictive system and make it a testing ground to
a higher level of flexibility before we implement the hub concept,"
Perera said. "Of course, this should be strictly regulated and confined
to a location with the Tea Board overlooking it with very high
Perera acknowledged that "sometimes our exporters also do things that
are not ethical." The success of the project will improve export of
value added tea products in a more flexible environment, he said.
Minister of Plantation Industries Navin Dissanayake, who was the
chief guest at the AGM, said the government was supportive of the hub
concept but was hesitant to implement it because of fears by producers
big and small that more tea imports would reduce Colombo auction prices.
"If the industry can thrash these issues out it will be easy for me
as a policy implementer," he said. "There is no consensus on the tea hub
for blending proposal. Producers are hesitant because of the impact
blending will have on prices. Will prices come down? Then how will
producers and small holders face it? Can this audience give an assurance
prices won't come down? If so, I have no issue." He added: "If I take
the risk as minister, I must know there will be genuine returns the
industry will bring."