A nine-member Pakistan delegation has made it to Coonoor hill town in Tamil Nadu after a gap of four years to get a flavor of south Indian tea and make trade enquiries.
Flying into India via Dubai in the absence of direct air links between the two neighboring countries, the delegation, led by Pakistan Tea Association chairman Saeed Ahmed Khawaja, held hour-long meeting on Friday with the representatives of the United Planters Association of South India on importing south Indian tea varieties, which are qualitatively superior and competitively priced.
"Most of our team members are here for the first time to explore the prospects of importing the local tea. We are also visiting a couple of tea estates in Tamil Nadu and Kerala next week to get a first-hand account of the production, processing and packaging," Khawaja told rediff.com on the sidelines of the 110th annual conference of Upasi.
Admitting that Pakistan imports only a minimal quantity of Indian tea despite logistical and cost-effective advantages, Khawaja said governments of both the countries should resolve the tariff and non-tariff barriers for boosting trade in the commodity.
Pakistan imports about 110 million kg of tea annually from Africa and South Asia.
About 60 per cent of the imports come from Kenya and another 15 per cent from other African countries, with the balance from Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nepal.
But due to high import tariff and other levies on Indian tea, a mere 3 million kg makes way through the border.
"Though per capita consumption in Pakistan is double that of India, the absence of official trade agreement between the two countries is holding up more imports of Indian tea.
"On account of the free trade agreement Pakistan has with Bangladesh and Nepal, we have zero duty on imports from these countries, whereas it is about 60 per cent on Indian tea," Khawaja lamented.
Asked how much of the Indian tea travels to Pakistan through third countries or in the form of smuggling, Khawaja said they could be substantial though official estimates were not available.
In the run-up to the zero import duty system from 2005 under the World Trade Organisation agreement, the delegation expressed hope that tea exports from India would go up substantially if the thorny political issues were resolved soon."We are keen to increase tea trade with India on account of the quality, variety and reduced freight costs. Sharing the same culture and taste, Indian tea will be more popular with our people," said Karachi-based major tea importer Mohsin Mansoor Saify.