India's tea exports up 2% by value on whole-leaf shipments to Iran

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A lucrative market in Iran for the whole-leaf variety helped Indian tea exports grow by 2.05 per cent by value even as overall shipment volumes dipped by 3.03 per cent due to volatility elsewhere.

In absolute terms, total export value last year stood at $796.36 as against $780.34 in 2018 and the volume stood at 248.29 million kg (mkg) as compared to 256.06 mkg in 2018.

Both, exporters and planters attributed the rise in export income to higher production of whole-leaf or orthodox tea, which fetches much better prices than the crush, tear, curl (CTC) variety.

Data sourced from the Tea Board showed that while production of CTC tea rose by 2.06 per cent last year to 1,233.73 mkg, orthodox tea production grew by 25.9 per cent to 138.83 mkg. 

“Higher orthodox production is good for the sector as nearly the entire quantity of this tea variant is exported,” Vivek Goenka, chairman, Indian Tea Association told Business Standard.

While the average price for CTC teas is $2.25-3 per kilo, orthodox teas fetch $4-5 a kilo in the international market.

“The improvement in prices is primarily on account of higher volume of whole-leaf exports. Quality of CTC has also improved in some growing areas, leading to better prices,” Arun Kumar Ray, deputy chairman at the Tea Board told this newspaper.

Exports of whole-leaf tea to Iran were up around 74 per cent at 53.45 mkg while in Germany, they stagnated at 10 mkg. On the other hand, exports of Darjeeling tea to Japan rose to 4.97 mkg from 3.69 mkg earlier. In the US, another orthodox and premium CTC market, exports increased to 12.22 mkg from 11.03 mkg earlier.

Iran, a pure whole-leaf market, outpaced Russia, an otherwise dominant CTC market, last year to become the top export destination for Indian teas.

Tea producing firms have been focussing on shifting more towards orthodox tea given that it is more remunerative and the export market for CTC tea has been volatile. In fact, last year both, prices and shipment volumes to most major CTC destinations fell.

Exporters from Kolkata said that owing to the uncertainty around Brexit, volumes to the UK fell by over 25 per cent, at 11.74 mkg while the geopolitical situation in West Asia brought dowm Indian exports to the UAE by 40 per cent and to Egypt by 70 per cent. Both of these are re-export markets as well for Indian tea.

Exports were hit in the SAARC region as well with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka drastically demanding lower quantities of Indian tea.

Realising the changed global dynamics of the tea trade, the Tea Board has been stressing on producing more orthodox and quality CTC teas to boost exports and is also encouraging tea firms to explore online platforms and portals to ship whole-leaf and green tea primarily in global markets. 

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