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China wrests tea laurel from India

Ishita Ayan Dutt  |  Kolkata 

It is not just in steel that India has to catch up with China. The steel guzzler has emerged as the world's largest tea producing country, with India slipping to second position. This is the first time that India has been displaced.
According to the latest International Tea Committee statistics, India produced 927 million kg of tea in 2005, compared with 934 million kg by China. In 2004, India's production was 892 million kg, while China's was 834 million kg.
According to officials of the Indian Tea Association (ITA), the major concern for India is that countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and China are still in expansion mode. In fact, China is converting a lot of its green tea to black tea, a market dominated by India.
This is possibly the first time that China's figures have been reported. "We always suspected that the crop delivery was far more than reported," an ITA official said.
However, the industry was unperturbed by the comparative figures. A prominent tea industry representative said, "We don't really know China's numbers. It should be close to India or equivalent to it."
One of the major concerns for the Indian tea industry is the falling yields from ageing bushes.
The commerce ministry and the industry are working on a special purpose tea fund for replantation, critical for boosting quality and exports.
In 2006, China is way ahead of India in tea exports. During January-June, India exported 79.1 million kg, while China eported 84.7 million kg between January-April.
On the world export map, India is at fourth position, with Sri Lanka and China closely placed in second and third, respectively. Kenya is the world's largest tea exporter.
Cost reduction and higher productivity would have to be achieved for enhancing competitiveness of Indian tea in the export market and survival of the tea industry.
According to the ITA status paper, India's global competitiveness would largely depend on how quickly it addresses the issue of high production cost. India is the highest cost producer of tea in the world.

First Published: Sat, October 14 2006. 00:00 IST