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    Assam tea in jeopardy as producers express concerns over illegal import of Nepal tea into country

    Assam tea in jeopardy as producers express concerns over illegal import of Nepal tea into country

    Assam tea in jeopardy as producers express concerns over illegal import of Nepal tea into country
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    By CNN News18   IST (Published)

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    After affecting the sale of the geographical indication (GI) tagged Darjeeling Orthodox tea, illegal entry of Nepal CTC (cut-tear and crush) into the Assam market has jeopardised the prospects of the Assam tea in local and international markets.

    All that glitters are not gold and the crimson orange tea that kick-starts your morning might not be the Assam tea you think it is. Tea producers and planters of Assam have expressed their concern about the unethical trade of illegally imported Nepal tea being traded as brand Assam tea.
    After affecting the sale of the geographical indication (GI) tagged Darjeeling Orthodox tea, illegal entry of Nepal CTC (cut-tear and crush) into the Assam market has jeopardised the prospects of the Assam tea in local and international markets.
    According to the WTO agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), no other teas, leave alone imported teas, can be blended with Assam (orthodox tea), Darjeeling, Kangra, and Nilgiris (orthodox tea) that have GI tag.
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    "Nepal has been producing tea in recent times and is contiguous to Darjeeling tea though separated by geographical boundaries. Tea production in Nepal is relatively new and the soil is virgin. It has impacted the Darjeeling Orthodox tea which has an international GI tag," said Bidyananda Borkotoky, Advisor Northeast East Tea Association (NETA).
    Borkotoky said Ilam in Nepal along the Indo-Nepal border in north Bengal is a major tea-producing area. "As India and Nepal are good neighbours and have a free trade agreement (FTA), tea from Nepal officially and illegally enters Siliguri in north Bengal and then finds its way into Assam."
    "The tea board has recovered Nepal tea from a tea factory in Golaghat of upper Assam recently. The samples have been sent for further testing," Borkotoky added.
    As per records provided by the Panitanki Land Customs Station in Nepal, 67,05 million kilograms of Nepal tea have been imported from the neighbouring country from 2014 to October 2020. Six samples have been tested in the laboratory between 2018 to 2020.
    "Assam produces 700 million kilogram of tea annually. There is a surplus of 100 million kilogram of tea per year. The invasion of tea from Nepal has made the demand and supply more topsy-turvy. Moreover, the landing cost of Nepal CTC tea is somewhere between Rs 80 to Rs 100 a kilogram and that of orthodox tea ranges between rupees 200 to 300 per kilogram, whereas the landing price of Assam CTC is around Rs 180 per kilogram," Borkotoky said.
    He further explained that Assam tea is passing through a rough phase where green leaf that fetched Rs 40 per kilogram last year is sold for a meager Rs 18 this year. "More than 50 percent of tea produced this year is lying unsold in the warehouses this year," added the advisor to the NETA.
    Assam has around 800 big tea estates and over 1.5 lakhs small tea growers. More than 20 lakh workers are engaged in these tea gardens directly or indirectly.
    "Government needs to check these unethical practices where Nepal tea is re-exported as Assam tea. Even 10 million kilogram of Nepal tea entering the Assam market is enough to jeopardise the economy of the Assam tea industry," added Borkotoky.
    Rubbing salt to the sores of the ailing Assam tea industry, more the 50 percent of Assam tea produced during the April-May period has been rejected by the packaging buyers and exporters owing to a high residual limit found in this tea. As per these buyers, these teas failed the conformity as per the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
    Borkotoky, however, said the residual limit standards set by the FSSAI are unachievable. "We have received endless calls from the buyers complaining about the failure of the tea to meet the FSSAI grades. We had a meeting with the director of the Tea Research Association at Jorhat, Dr. Anup Kumar Baruah who is an expert on this. We got to know that the Maximum Residual Limit of the FSSAI is unachievable."
    "On August 21, 2020, the FSSAI made a draft notification in which the ranges were relaxed. For example, the MRL for Quinalphos an insecticide is 0.01 milligram per kg which has been increased to 0.07 milligram per kilogram in the draft. Due to pandemic, the final notification is yet to be released," he explained.
    "We appeal to Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to take up the issue with the government of India and get the final notification published," said Borkotoky.
    Federation of All India Tea Traders Association (FAITTA), the apex trade body of the packet tea players which includes Tata Global Beverages, HUL, and others, tested teas at an independent firm, Eurofins Analytical Services India. Eurofins indicated that the chemical content is higher than the maximum residue levels and does not conform to the FSSAI standard.
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