Global tea experts call for formal standards on world market

NAIROBI, Nov 27, 2006 (AFP) – Global tea experts meeting in Kenya Monday called for tough minimum quality standards to address the growing problem of poor tea entering the international market and depressing prices. “In targeting potential growth markets, recognition of and compliance with food safety and quality standards is essential,” said Kaison Chang, a senior commodity expert for the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

“Devising strategies to exploit demand in value-added market segments, including speciality tea, such as organic tea, should also be more aggressively pursued,” he said.

Chang said an FAO subgroup would be meeting soon in Nairobi to look at the potential impacts of imposing a “minimum quality standard” designed to improve the quality of tea traded and at the same time reduce the amount on the market.

Opening the week-long meeting, Kenyan Agriculture Minister Kipruto Arap Kirwa lamented that tea, long a mainstay of his country’s economy, has been hit in recent years with various woes.

“While the tea sector has done well over the years, currently the global tea industry is experiencing various challenges,” he told the more than 200 delegates, including tea traders, producers and packers from around the world.

Among them, he noted high production costs, depressed market prices due to an oversupply of black tea, low-quality tea and competition from other drinks.

World tea production reached new highs in 2005 with output growing by more than three percent to an estimated 3.5 million tonnes, following record crops by main producers including China, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya. FAO projections show that supply will continue to outstrip demand, which experts said should be addressed and urged new promotion of the product for consumption in both producing and importing countries.