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Darjeeling tea planters have asked the Central government to impose 100% import duty on Nepal tea as nearly 10.5 million kg of Nepal tea has entered India till October without any Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) check, harming the sales of the Darjeeling tea industry, which is going through a rough patch.
In 2021, Nepal had exported 11.47 million kg of teas to India. Darjeeling tea planters say that it is difficult for the consumers to differentiate between Darjeeling and Nepal tea and since most of the Nepal teas are produced by small tea growers there is hardly any check on usage of pesticides, some of which may have carcinogenic properties.
"It is an alarming situation for the Darjeeling tea industry. Prices of Darjeeling tea are falling as cheap teas from Nepal are entering India and are finding shelf space at the retail end," said B.K. Saria, chairman, Darjeeling Tea Association.
This year Darjeeling tea production could be around 6.6-6.7 million kg.
Nepal teas are cheaper than Darjeeling by 50% -60% depending upon the grade. "Nearly 80% of Nepal teas are being produced by small growers and the rest 20% by organised players. The small growers do not conform to the pesticide norms," Saria said.
Nepal produces more than 25,000 tonnes of tea annually, according to the National Tea and Coffee Development Board. Of the total production, crush, tear and curl (CTC) tea makes up 19,000 tonnes. Tea is one of the major exportable cash crops for Nepal. The country earns more than Rs. 5 billion annually from tea production.
Saria said "Labour cost constitutes 70% of the total cost in Darjeeling compared to Nepal tes. Nepal does not have any statutory labour benefits like PF, gratuity, bonus, housing, medical assistance, which help their produce to be cheap."
Tea exports from Nepal to India are governed by the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) allowing such teas to enter India without any import duty.
"We have written to the Union commerce minister Piyush Goyal that tea imported from Nepal does not conform to the prescribed FSSAI quality norms and compliances. While on one hand Nepal teas do not conform to the norms and on the other, because of its cheap cost of production, these teas are depressing Darjeeling tea prices, the DTA chairman said.