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The Chairman of the Tea Exporters Association (TEA), Rohan Fernando last week urged Sri Lanka’s policy makers to take the members of the Association into confidence vowing that the assurance alone could propel the industry to reach greater heights.

Addressing the 15th Annual General Meeting of the TEA held at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel recently with the participation of Minister of Plantation Industries Mahinda Samarasinghe, Fernando said that indifference to most others, the tea exporters have never gone to the government with a begging bowl and, in fact, have not received any concessions or for that matter recognition for their efforts in building global brands.

“I will not delve on data and facts, but as we have always professed, it is very much in the interest of the Government in power to take us into confidence,” the Chairman said.

He noted that as an organization representing over 85% of the total tea revenue generated in the country, the TEA was able to mobilize positive energies amongst its members and that if a productive dialogue is established, the tea exporters can certainly assist the government in their revenue targets.

“In 2010, when the EDB launched the vision for Sri Lanka, we were confident in stating that the tea exports will target to reach an annual turnover of 5 billion USD by 2020. It was treated with the same lukewarm response as the one billion target we projected to cross several years ago. But today the policymakers are confident of the possibility of 5 billion USD. I say to you today with confidence, the potential of our members if properly harnessed is much more than the figure we are aiming at,” Fernando pointed out.

Speaking further, the TEA Chairman said that if Research and Development is recognized as an essential part of innovation, tea will be the first industry to benefit and double its potential within a short period. He, therefore, appealed to the policymakers to look at tea from a different perspective.

“It is an accepted fact that the vast numbers of tea farmers need state assistance and any government in office will not shirk this responsibility and lose the votes.

At the same time, Tea Exporters must be taken into confidence and a dialogue established to go after a larger global share which is growing year-on-year surpassing most other human essentials. It is surprising that when formulating national policy this vital fact is overlooked,” Fernando further added.

Mr Fernando’s points to ponder

  • The industry we are engaged in, for reasons known to some is clustered as the tea industry without giving any credence to its evolvement over the years as tea plantations and tea exports. It probably shows the way the policy makers look at us, perhaps as a traditional industry with not much contribution expected of. It must be noted that a vast number of our exporters are now setting up operations in centralized locations close to the large markets and this will certainly boost the value of these companies and accrue strong brand value like the way some of the multinational companies have progressed. We believe by the turn of this decade more local companies will become multinationals and it will be a pride to our nation to witness some of our tea brands being recognized through international stock options.
  • A further point to keep in mind is that Tea Companies have started to diversify whilst maintaining its core business in tea. Hence the power of the Tea Economy should also be viewed from a different angle with their diversified strengths. Today, it is evident that Tea has provided the springboard for several high-value segments to branch out.
  • Tea based beverages which were made popular by multinational companies is now being developed in Sri Lanka. The largest beverage manufacturer of soft drinks in Sri Lanka recently introduced a line of tea drinks which will bring to light yet another dimension of this magic brew.
  • Tea tourism has taken shape giving a boost at the plantation level to create new wealth. The health aspect of tea is now a well-established fact and several curative products from tea are already in the market and before too long the range will expand even to capture spas and health resorts.

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