Saeed Ahmed Khawaja, chairman, Pakistan Tea Association, (PTA), said tea was an item of special interest to both India and Pakistan. While India was the largest producer of tea Pakistan had an annual requirement of 130 million kgs valued at $250 million. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pakistan was the second largest tea importer after the UK and given the preference for tea in that country, it would become the largest importer in the world by 2005. In such a situation, the proposal for a single market was possible, Mr Khawaja felt.
Pakistan, with its avid tea drinkers, had a per capita consumption of 1 keg per annum which was twice as much as Indians and four times that of Bangladeshis. It was the most popular drink and also the cheapest. Team imports had been putting much pressure on Pakistans exchequer and there was no price control though prices were monitored by the government.
Pakistani tea market was broadly in two categories of blended and packed on the one side and the loose tea on the other. The former represented approximately 60 per cent of the total trade. Till the formation of Bangladesh, Pakistan depended solely on tea from East Pakistan and Ceylon. But in 1977 Lankan prices rose sharply and the Safri Road to East Africa opened and Pakistan went in for Kenyan tea.
Imports from Africa account for 75 per cent of the Pakistani demand. About Indian tea, he said that prices were generally high because of the strong and growth-driven internal demand. Purchases from the Indian market were only during times of low prices and this resulted in erratic imports from here.
Secondly, Russia was a major buyer of Indian tea and production here was tailored to suit the Russian market. This also hampered Pakistani import of Indian tea as both quality and prices were unaffordable. However, he felt n the changed scenario, India could attempt to manufacture tea to suit the Pakistani palate. There had to be more exchanges between the two countries and more sharing of information on markets and prices, an area that had been badly neglected.
Tea Board chairman NK Das said as part of Indias medium-term strategy, the focus would be Pakistan and India aimed at doubling its exports to hat country to 6 million kgs this year. The board would go in for collection of various tea varieties and origins of tea and try to give blends suiting the Pakistani needs.