India had exported 248.29 million kg of tea in 2019, 3% less than in 2018.KOLKATA: The Indian tea trade is beginning to get enquiries for black tea from buyers in the US, Britain, Germany and China, but the Covid-19-induced lockdown poses challenges in fulfilling those orders despite New Delhi giving the industry some operational concessions.
To be sure, the Centre said Saturday that the industry could function with half the usual staff strength through the Covid-19 lockdown, which is scheduled to end mid-month, going by the current timetable.
Planters have written to the state administrations of Assam and West Bengal to allow them to resume operations at the earliest.
“We hope that by the next Thursday or Friday, the gardens will reopen and work will begin,” said Vivek Goenka, chairman, Indian Tea Association. “We are creating awareness among plantation workers about the need to maintain social distancing and frequent washing of hands so that the spread of Covid-19 can be avoided.”
On resumption of operations, workers will take a fortnight for skiffing and pruning the tea bushes, which have overgrown in the interim.
Once skiffing is done, the new shoots will take two days to come out. “If everything falls in line, we may not lose the second-flush tea crop that constitutes the bulk of the country’s production,” said a senior planter.
Sujit Patra, secretary, Indian Tea Association, said that export demand exists.
“The problem is that courier services are shut. In the tea industry, we have to courier the bills to the buyers and to the banks. If the courier service movement is not eased, it becomes difficult to carry out exports. Also, shipping lines need to become operational so that consignments can be sent,” Patra said.
The Indian tea trade cannot afford to lose the Iran market, where it had exported close to 54 million kgs of tea in 2019.
“There is demand in the Iran market for orthodox teas. Orders have started trickling in,” said Mohit Agarwal, director, Asian Tea and a big exporter to Iran. “The problem is that banks in Iran are not fully operating, which is why the buyers from that country are not being able to place orders.”
India had exported 248.29 million kg of tea in 2019, 3% less than in 2018. In January, the country had exported 17.95 million kg of tea, compared with 23.25 million kg in the same month last year.