Tea Board delegation to visit Libya

KOLKATA, JULY 6. After more than six months since the controversy came into light, the Tea Board is taking a delegation of Indian exporters to find ways to open the Libyan market again. The visit, now scheduled to take place in the middle of July, was pending since February this year.

Libya stopped buying Indian teas for alleged export of three million kg of `substandard' teas by the Kolkata based Golden Star Trading House, LMJ International and its associate companies. LMJ was accused of exporting substandard rice and coffee earlier. The last complaint in this regard was submitted by the Libyan procurement agency NASSCO to the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) in May this year through diplomatic channels.

Talking to The Hindu, a senior Tea Board official said Libya had imposed an ``informal ban on Indian exports'' following the last controversy and had accused LMJ and its group company, Agro Commodities, of repeatedly exporting substandard agri-products to Libya for the last few years. The complaint described as a `verbal note' in diplomatic language was further to its first `note' submitted to the Indian Ambassador in Libya in October- November, 2000. It may be noted that Libya was always a steady market for Indian rice, coffee, tea and a few other products till 1996-97. Last year, India lost a substantial order of close to 15 million kg of tea to Sri Lanka as a direct fallout of the controversy.

Belated yet the Tea Board visit is actually aimed at wresting contracts for the Indian merchant exports in the recent tender for tea floated by NASSCO. ``As demanded by the Libyan authorities, we are taking the promoter and officials of the erring firm for an immediate and amicable solution to the issue'', Tea Board sources said. Apart from Libya, the Tea Board's Dubai office is scheduled to lead another delegation to Iran. According to sources, the latter had developed a substantial stock piling of tea and had stopped imports altogether. As per official notification issued by the Iranian authorities, the country would not resume imports before August.

The Tea Board, however, is worried at the instance of very little activity on the part of Russian buyers. ``Their purchases are substantially lower than that of the corresponding period last year'', Tea Board sources confirmed. The only good news on this count is the visit of a high level Russian delegation comprising prominent buyers, scheduled from July 13 to 23. Keeping in tune with their declining interest in South Indian teas, the Russians did not show any interest in visiting South India. To stop them shifting towards Sri Lanka, we have proposed a visit to North India instead while convincing them to spend a day in the southern part of the country". The delegation would specifically visit Assam (areas around Jorhat) and Darjeeling estates.

With exports reportedly down than last year's level, the future is uncertain at least till August, the only morale booster for the industry is release of an 8 million kg order by Iraq recently. The merchant exporter lobby is hopeful to end the year with close to 20 million kg export to Iraq this fiscal.