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350 global delegates for Assam tea party

business Updated: Nov 11, 2007 03:24 IST

From tasters to overseas buyers and foreign government representatives, an estimated 350 delegates are to attend a global tea party in Assam aimed at promoting the Indian beverage.

The three-day India International Tea Convention, scheduled to open on Nov 22 in Assam's main city of Guwahati, is being dubbed as a major trade extravaganza to draw foreign buyers.

"We are expecting government representatives from tea-producing countries like Kenya and Sri Lanka, besides delegates from the UK, the US, Russia, Germany, Egypt and even China for the convention," Dhiraj Kakaty, secretary of the Assam chapter of the Indian Tea Association (ITA), the country's apex tea administration body, told IANS.

The tea convention is being organised jointly by the Tea Board of India, ITA, and the India Trade Promotion Organisation.

"We would get a chance to offer a bouquet of both Assam and other varieties of Indian tea before the visiting delegates. This would indeed be a very good platform to attract foreign buyers to help boost tea exports," the official said.

Delegates would have a chance to taste some of the premier varieties of tea at the convention, besides interacting with local planters and tea makers from the Singpho tribe in Assam who are believed to have first discovered tea bushes.

"Everything is almost set and we are quite hopeful that the tea festival would be a success," A Sharma, a planter, said.

Long before the commercial production of tea started in India in the late 1830s, the tea plant was growing wild in the jungles of Assam. Members of the Singpho tribe ate the leaves as a vegetable with garlic, besides drinking the brew after dipping the leaves in boiled water. Since then, the beverage has come a long way.

But India's $1.5 billion tea industry has been facing a crisis with prices dropping in the weekly auctions since 1998 and exports plummeting as well.

The slump in prices and exports was largely attributed to the cheap and inferior quality tea produced by many new tea-growing countries like Cambodia and Bangladesh, thereby pushing premium quality Indian tea to face stiffer competition in the global market.

"The tea festival would help increase the exposure of Indian tea to foreign buyers and boost our effort at making India the global hub for sourcing tea," Assam's Industry Minister Pradyut Bordoloi said.

India's traditional tea market in Russia and Britain has been severely hit in recent years with both the countries lifting cheap tea from Kenya and Sri Lanka.

Faced with crashing prices, a glut in the market and falling exports, the Indian government is eyeing new markets.

"Pakistan, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Iran are some of the new markets developing for us," Kakaty said.

India has already set up a marketing bureau in Tehran and will soon be opening an office in Cairo to promote tea. India is currently the world's largest tea producer after China with a record crop of 955 million kg last year. India exported 200 million kg of tea in 2006.