The aftershocks of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last week are being felt in far off Darjeeling. Tea buyers from Japan, one of the largest importers of Darjeeling tea, have cancelled orders leaving exporters in this West Bengal hill station high and dry.
"The Japanese are high-end tea buyers. Prices of Darjeeling tea usually go up owing to Japanese bidding in the international markets. But with buyers backing out, Darjeeling tea will fail to fetch the usual prices," predicted a senior manager of a tea garden.Japan is the third largest importer of Darjeeling tea after Germany and Britain. In 2010, Darjeeling produced 7,500,000 kg of tea, 70% of which was exported.
Darjeeling Tea Association figures reveal that Japan alone imported around 1,000,000 kg of Darjeeling tea.
But the March 11 tsunami, the most devastating natural disasters of recent times, has ensured that this year is going to be different.
Japanese authorities say more than 13,000 people are dead or are missing as a result of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit the northeastern part of the country.
The country's economy has also taken a beating.
"Japan is my main buyer. A major chunk of my export orders stand cancelled," said Rajiv Mitra of Rajiv Tea Exports.
To make matters worse, dealers have not been able to send samples as many courier services have discontinued services to Japan post tsunami.
"Darjeeling tea being a luxury item will not feature in the priority list of the Japanese at this juncture. It will take years to regain the old business quantum. More than 60% of my total exports is to Japan," explained Sailesh Sarda of the Nathmull's Tea Room in Darjeeling.
"The overall situation is grim. Japan buys Darjeeling tea all year round," said Sandeep Mukherjee, secretary of the Darjeeling Tea Association.