2 October, 2020

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Tea & Russia-Sri Lanka Dispute

By Sarath Wijesinghe

Sarath Wijesinghe

Tea Is Our Pride

Tea is our pride, for which we can be proud of for the reason that it is the best tea on the Globe. It is the duty of every Sri Lankan – especially the Diplomatic Missions worldwide to defend and promote our silver inherited as much as the beauty of Sri Lanka which is no match to other. Sri Lanka Tea is unique due to unique flavour, colour and character which cannot be readily found elsewhere. The humidity, cool temperature, sunshine, and rainfall (two monsoons) in the country’s central and southern highlands are conducive to the manufacture of unique quality teas. Tea plantations are scenic and pristine. Tea is grown handpicked and processed in an artisanal process, unchanged over a century. Where else in the world one could find this combination in One Island?. Tea has been one of  our main exports and a main  source of income for decades as a leader in tea trade.

Most Consumed Drink Next To Water

Tea is the most consumed drink of the mankind next to water. It is very healthy harmless and a natural drink which is consumed as a social drink which bonds families countries including Sri Lanka (Once Ceylon) which has now losing  the position as the main exporter to the world. Tea grown area is limited due to shortage of land, and the cost of production has become unbearable mainly due to the shortage and high wages of labour and maintained. Estate owners do not invest on replanting and new plantations due to excessive expenditure and the length of period for a return, though once the tea is properly grown the benefit will extend to few decades. But in an era citizens are looking for quick and large margins on profits, traditional investors on cultivation are rare. This is a sad and a disturbing situation. It is time the local investors and tea estate owners are encouraged for re plantation and/or use tea estates for Tea Tourism for which the environment is ideal due to landscape and beauty in addition to the availability. Tourists, especially those from Middle East are full of praise and love for Tea Estates for beauty, calm environment and greenery coupled with sceneries. It is time the tourist Board and the Tea Board engage in an exploratory expedition on this area to benefit the tourist industry as well as tea industry and both industries in return will be boosted with unexpected publicity for both areas. If no remedial steps are taken by the Governance and Tea Board the tea industry and our pride is bound to collapse! Our competitors are aggressively promote tea and tea industry with new plantations with the use of new technology when Sri Lanka is lagging behind miles away.

Unhealthy Fast Food And Beverages

It is a sorry affair that people have got used to unhealthy fast food and beverages with strong chemicals and poisonous materials. However the concerns are raised and advice given to discourage unhealthy breweries and encourage healthy and natural drinks, the billions spend on advertisements and attractions have overtaken the campaigners for natural drinks which are healthy, cheap and readily available. Sadly in Sri Lanka coffee with lot of sugar is available in parties and officers increasing diabetic population when tea is freely available in every corner. A young coconut is only 30 rupees whereas artificial beverage with lot of sugar and chemicals will cost over 50 rupees, which passes billion of rupees to multinational companies. Ironically average youngster and even an adult will go for the unhealthy artificial beverage in place of a natural young coconut or a healthy cup of tea. India is far above us. They have banned artificial beverages and multinational companies from the Indian soil. It is sad but true that the standard of tea and tea industry is fast fading away and it is difficult to find good and quality tea in the nation of tea. It is a pity Sri Lankans do not take the best use of tea grown here.

Russia-Sri Lanka Dispute

Sri Lankan tea is marketed and popular in Russia. The most important foreign markets for Sri Lankan tea are the former Soviet bloc countries of the CIS, The United Arab Emirates, Russia, Syria, Turkey, Iran, the United Kingdom, Egypt, Libya, and Japan. The political situation in some countries has a direct effect on Ceylon Tea and it is time for us to look for alternatives until the situation in the Middle East settles. Arab world and West considers Tea as a healthy smooth traditional social drink. The consumption patterns has changed due to fast life by adopting quicker methods such as tea bags instead of traditional pot of tea, or naturally made tea traditionally for quiet and smooth enjoyment. Still tea is synonymous with Ceylon with the brand and the trade mark for pure original and quality tea. Awareness and demand for Ceylon Tea among consumers in the Gulf Market is high. Loose tea consumption has dominated over consumption of tea bags. Consumers are gradually weaned away from loose quality tea due to aggressive media campaigns and fast life of consumers. Multinational brands increase their market share through heavy media/promotional spend and sophisticated packaging, despite using infer ere “multi origin teas” The brand becomes more significant than the origin. This trend is seen in former Ceylon strongholds such as Russia and former Soviet Republics. Russia has imported about 30 million kilograms of tea from Sri Lanka for the last 10 months of 2017 being2915million worth $23 million kilograms which is 12% of total exports from Sri Lanka, which is suddenly banned from 18th December 2017 for the presence of a beetle named “Troderma Granarium” which is a biggest blow on Sri Lankan economy in the country of a crisis situation. President Sirisena promptly sent a letter to President Putin requesting the ban and made public announcements of the request which one wonders whether it is premature without studying the ground situation and proper inquiry as communication and request between heads of two states should be carefully and diplomatically manure as the presence of one Beatle is so insignificant though the impact on our economy is a major blow. It is necessary to find out whether there are any other reasons behind including the asbestoses ban from Russia and the straining of international relations with the socialist block supporting Sri Lanka traditionally and throughout due to over affiliations with the west tracing back strained relations with USSR/Russia during Untied National party regimes from 1948.

Way Forward

The statement by the controversial former Ambassador to Russia Udayanga Weeratunga, on the issue on tea trade and the alleged previous warnings by him on the crisis is of great importance and significance as he himself is alleged to be involved in tea trade successfully while maintaining good relations with traders during the previous regime. Our concern is our nation and economy and it is our duty and wishes are to prey and work towards a resolution of the issue as early as possible without aggravating it any longer. Obviously in this instance it is premature for the head of the state to make public statements without proper understanding and study the ground situation in diplomatic and international spheres of the areas of international relations and highest standards of statesmanship carefully taking minor incidents to the international arena. Let this be an eye opener to revisit our strategies in international relations and business dealings on tea and agriculture as the ban effects the entire agriculture exports to Russia being one of our main exporters. Kenya is our main competitor fast emerging to take our place as the world leader when we have no policy or a strategy to improve our tea industry with long and short policies on replanting, developments of tea factories, control unscrupulous packing in Sri Lanka and overseas including Dubai and UK which are claiming to be tea hubs using our tea as a base product, prevent adulterating our tea giving access to the tea traders poisoning and destroying our image and tea industry. We wish the representation by the Ministers visiting Russia will be a success, but the fact remains that it is temporary and long term strategy and concerted efforts are required long and short term to maintain the good will based on quality and image building in the country the Tea Board has not taken any steps for promotion and publicity for the last decade. Let us wait for the statesmanship, and goodwill of the ministers visiting Russia in the midst of Christmas when all government and business outlets are closed.

*Sarath Wijesinghe- former Chairman Consumer Affairs Authority and former Ambassador to U A E and Israel

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    It says, Earlier Tea was packaged in large wooden boxes built in Sri lanka at a cost of Rs 22 each, and that was transfeered to imported boxes at a cost of Rs 33, saying that cardboard box was more modern, easy to print etc., then the cardboard boxes are registered in turkey and their quality standards are fishy. Particularly, the insect that was found in some boxes are not found in Sri lanka. so, it has something strange. Besides, russia has asked space to do business but the GOSL has said no. On the other hand, GOSL has changed Land Reform act and they are giving lands to foreign companies of specific country. they say, you invest your money in country and also lease our lands we got in Sri lanka and we teach you how to do business.Anyway, russia is not happy, because some countries are favoured while other countries are discriminated. S=the story is very strange with respect to how the govt runs the country. IT is simply so many bulls in one china shop.

    • 2
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      The particular beetle found in lanken Tea is proved to be one usually not found in SL.

      I have no doubt, russian and lanken experts in the area will be able to clear the issue in coming days.

      Even if more culprits in and out of the country make their efforts to abuse the chance and attack srilanken govt on this issue, truth will open the eyes of them sooner.
      Yes of course, Tea is lanken pride and this had more been few decades ago. Today, in european and other western markets, there are other tea sorts that compete with lanken TEA.
      lIKE for example in Europe, I got to see, ASSAM, Darjeeling, and some teas from Kenya are being served instead of CEYLON tea. This had not been the case few years ago.
      Our authorities should have strenghtened their lobbies in each of those coutnries in Europe as a long term plan.
      Just stay away not reacting properly and adequately not ONLY tea but also other items can be taken away from other competing parties. Today the market is becoming no easy.

    • 2
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      Former Ambassador to Russia has been the target of Interpol – him to have added some statements and them to be appeared in lanken new web sites ( info lanka etc) gives me the thoughts, these web sites should have been close to the alleged fund grabber.
      Why not these web sites react against the bugger and get him caught… as read somewhere else, Udayanga wijetunaga, former President mafia king s cousin is under the search of Interpol.
      Why have we been fooled by the kind of web sites ?

      Please CT bring one article on this ?

      How can those alleged criminals be away from being caught ?

      Is Interpol that weak not to catch him ?

      MIG deal and the related stoeies we got to read were no small fraud, but high profilefund grabs.

    • 0
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      Very few people in developed countries drink tea. They drink coffee, hot chocolate and iced tea not made in SL. Only poor Russians still drink it. If they know the load of chemicals sprayed to tea leaves in SL, they will not come close to our tea.

  • 0
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    This says, GOSL’s foreign policy is simply non existent. Ranil is saying for every thing we can not do it that way. because some one is saying NO.

    • 1
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      Jim Bumsy,

      you should be a born fool.

      Had the GOSL foreign Policy been that weak, your mafia king should have been in Hague or any other place by date. At the time, current leaders got elected, ballige putha et al had been targeted by western forces for all the harm his administration deliberately made in the name of war winning. And his propandists made and painted the picture in favour of them – even you and all other grass and punnaku eaters believe Rajapakshe magical powers eleminated terror.
      He ated the full cake by himself. just sharing their family only.
      The manner balligeputha put the war hero SF in jail for 3 years was beyond comphrehensiion to anyone with a a bird s brain.
      All is clear to the world, but idiots of your nature would lick the balls of Rajapkshe or the like being on the non-stop mode.

      • 0
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        LittleSimonfrom Berlin: Did not Maithripala and Ranil take the govt to solve those problems. why they are silent and looks stupid.
        You are talking like like an idiot. What should Mahinda Rajapakse be responsible when the Horapalanaya is stupid, ignorant, negligent, careless, not smart, slothy and everything.
        the best solution is TEA BOARD should have good BEST PRACTICES PROGRAM to protect their export product since the time it was packaged. Simply their quality program should be addressed. IT should be fool proof to any sabotage and also negligence from the packaging people.,

  • 2
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    Russian bullying tactics.

    • 1
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      Lankens in general mix it up. Sure, if any kind of parasites being found in SL or any other countries shoudl react immediately.
      But this should be investigated, besides, the particular bettle or the insect could have been part of the covering. If not found in the country how come it to be accused of being added from lanka ?

      Anyone can acusse, but that should be stopped or once facts are on the table.

      Russians are no idiots like our animals that make effort to attack the govt for this right these days.

  • 0
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    Notwithstanding Mr Wijesinghe’s paean to our green gold, the crux of the present impasse is the serious dereliction of care in the export of an important product. Of the several exporters, too many are lackadaisical in their approach to preparation and packaging and this has led to variable standards across the board. Sadly, this is par for the course in many of our industries , and that is why there are fair number of foreign quality controllers here on behalf of many importers to ensure stringent standards are met before items are exported. Cultural and historical ties will count for naught, If Sri Lanka does not pull its socks up, gets serious, and tighten procedures it will be a further nail in the coffin of our export trade.

  • 0
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    Nobody might qualify to guess correctly of an economically harmful move by a
    country like Russia against a tiny drop of an Indian ocean . But a rumour that is
    doing the rounds about a possible link to ‘Asbstos’ ban can not be ignored as one
    contributor .Daily news of low quality adulterated foods sales in Srilanka could also
    put more strain to strictest checks on our major product . Whatever the reason
    behind , one thing is clear and that is the DAMAGE to our reputation of TEA .
    Consumer confidence is now taken away and global sales could now start to fall !
    So this should be a well calculated punitive move even if temporary ! As minister
    Mano Ganesan was quick to link the issue with Asbestos ban , one has to give it a
    serious thought . Is it a tit for tat ? If so , is it right ? Are we then wrong to ban what
    we think very harmful to us ? Is Russia losing a huge Asbestos market by our action ?

  • 0
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    CT: Could you please obtain a statement on this controversy from the “Technical Authority” – the Tea Research Institute of Sri Lanka and publish it for our understanding of the problem. The head of this Institute is Dr. M.M.J.B.Gavaramman. I, for the moment suspect, a well thought out plan by some dubious but publicly known individuals who are slated to be on the mat, presently involved in “Tea Business” based abroad – one from the West and the other in the East. Two of the best to be “suspected?” are (1) Mr. Jaliya Wickramasuriya based in USA, in West (presently charged for fraud and remanded; but obtained Court’s permission to travel abroad for”Medical Treatment) and No 2, another “Most Wanted” Mr. Udayanga Weeratunga out there, known to be living in Russia and engaged in “Tea Business”. Both are RELATIONS of the “Deposed” Maha Raja – Mahinda Rajapakse. These “surmises” are all political aspects and could be unearthed after a complete investigation that MUST be undertaken immediately by the Government. Till then it shall remain a “Doubt”.
    od for

  • 0
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    *We have a (COM ) MON President who was elected by the common people on Swan symbol but very busy from the day he was elected to strengthen / building SLFP the ” HIS ” ( empty ) Party…..
    *We have an ELITE Prime Minister who is busy in sleeping during the day ..dreaming in the night ( like many elites ) ..who works in a vacuum ..always…”yannea koheadha malley pol…”
    * We have an ELITE Minister of Plantations” who has nothing to do …” But very busy in promoting father’s legacy !!! and spending poor man’s Tax money on promotion of the profitable privately managed estates ..!!!!!
    and the coconut is Rs 110.00….

    SUDDENLY THE BUG HAS CREPT IN THEIR EAR….DUE TO THE FOCUS ON ” HIS ” ( EMPTY ) AGENDAS …..

  • 1
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    I see a different side of the Tea story. Contrary to what people think, our Diplomats are helpless in a crisis like this.
    .
    The insect found in Ceylon Tea could be as a result of sabotage. There seems to be a secret move to isolate Sri Lanka severing our ties with powerful Russia and China.
    .
    This has nothing to do with the foreign policy but the end result will be Sri Lanka depending on one single country, which is USA. Ranil/UNP have already become their hostages. US Ambassador violated the Vienna Convention AGAIN for the umpteenth time stating that federal system is suitable to Sri Lanka which is none of his business.
    .
    There was a high level move to stop Sri Lanka buying the Russian Offshore Patrol Vessel. US even offered an Offshore Cutter to Sri Lanka which is pretty unusual. Anyways, to his credit, the President went ahead with the purchase of Russian OPV avoiding any tension between our relations with Russia. Then this Tea issue came. How long have we been exporting Tea to the world and have we ever heard a “ban on our tea”??? This is not a trade issue, this is something bigger than that.
    .
    Then I saw a strange news about a gang of 25 men assaulting a Chinese road construction worker(? subject to verification). Again, how long Chinese workers have been working in Sri Lanka?
    .
    Few week ago, Washington Times had published an article titled “Sri Lanka doesn’t need American bear hugs anymore.” I told Wimal this could an attempt to impose some kind of embargo on Sri Lanka to exert pressure on the President. Who knows, may be the first part of it has started i.e. severing our ties with Russia. (300-words dead.)

    • 0
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      champa. Read my comment at the top. Sri lankan leaders are brain dead. they just talk. Ranil is extremely weak. Even if some one suggest or propose he would “no, these things can not be done that way, because some one is watching over meaning you know who”. the other idiot, Tamils want him to be the Minister for Lands, he is just doing everything like the bull in the china shop. did you see how the Finance minister handled Land reforms. the strange thing, I heard, eventually we ourselves have to lease those lands from them. the may something there, an industrial zone and offer parts of building and business expertise As a package.

  • 1
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    The ‘Insect-in-Ceylon-Tea’ issue is being blown out of proportion. What was the insect? Were there many? Where were they? Was it negligence on the part of the exporter?
    Answers to such simple questions should allay the fears of Russia. ‘Ceylon Tea’ is big big brand name in Russia.
    GoSL must look at possible sabotage at our end – LG elections are round the corner!

  • 0
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    I work with Iraqi people they said that they only Ceylon tea since their childhood.
    Iraq has been number one importer of our tea and why not we make use of this opportunity once again.
    All ME countries are good market .but our missions do not work hard to get market for our tea.
    Secondly we should be careful when export about the quality of our tea .
    Sri Lanka has got a lot potentiality to export tea; coconut; fish; fruits and Vegs.snd many more times.
    But we do not have technology to process them well.

    • 1
      1

      This is lack of your knowledge. We have been exporting tea to western world for the last 60 years. Do you think tha tthey did it without going through standards of quality that European countries expect them to be ?

      Lanken experts are world starndards in tea producing processes. This I know as one who once went to see some Hantane factories in their production lines.
      This insect should have come through packing materials. Once they analyse, it , Russia has to lift the ban, This will not take that longer.
      Entire world know that Ceylon tea has been the best, even if european markets now focus on Assam and Kenya teas.

      You may be right, our diplomatic ties make no timely efforts making lobbies about lanken export goods. I think they should do lot more, just being away not making adverts through embassies, can only create even more losses.
      Today the market has been very commpetitive.

  • 0
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    CHAMPA…YOU ARE VERY RIGHT….
    Russia has banned imports of Tea from Sri Lanka for some other reason that the general public in our Country ought not know….because our country is ruled by bandits…here is the reason..
    ” There is a serious shortage of fertilizers in the Country created by the Ministry of Agriculture…and the game has begun….JAT the Paint manufacturer …the Entreprenure of the year built the Villa mansion Polonnaruwa FREE…the flamboyant BOY suddenly is in the inner circle of the club of Barons has quoted for the tender costing Rs 10.bn …the 2 Fert Companies awarded the tender to JAT….
    BUT very rightly the offer has been rejected by the Ministry Secretary due to bogus QC submitted by JAT and for deviating from the set stringent QA procedure of approvals for Licence to import of Fert….Arsenic is an impurity that cannot be avoided in manufacturing process of Fert but minimize..the levels have to be checked before releasing to the user….when the QC is bogus every bag is required to be checked….imagine the time to check 1.44 mn bags..! THEREFORE NO ONE DO SPOT PURCHASES OF FERT…
    Besides the US$ 328 per mt is very high …
    good quality urea can be purchased during lean periods for US $ 250- 270 per mt.
    Whose pockets get lined up with US $ 70x 72,000 = US$ 5.0mn or Rs 750.0 mn ?
    Fertlizer is controlled by the Mafia in Russia…so the Tea..
    The tender is rejected by us on quality …..the Tea is rejected by Russia on quality…the BUG .”

    It is certain the ship is docked outside ….

  • 0
    0

    Even though some web sites note down every country in the endemic zone for this particular Kharpa Beetle within which Sri lanka is also located, Sri lanka doe snot have this beetle. It looks completely a later introduction to the product. How ever those working in the Tea industry have been very lackadaisical, careless and negligent. Who ever in the teab board who should have addressed this should be warned for his stupidity. but, there are other issues with russian and Sri lankan trade that Srri lanka did not solve, those have to be addressed.

  • 0
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    Cabinet is reported to have lifted the ban on Asbestos ! Hoyya , thanks to the insect
    in the tea packaging , Asbestos cancer scare is now gone ! My3 will not accept
    foreign judges for an international inquiry on the war on terror but very humbly
    succumb to container insect !!!! What a panic ! What a diplomacy ! What a politics !
    Russians are not going to tell their public ‘ now the tea is safe .’ Already we are in
    the fourth place of world index of tea production after China, India and Kenya.

  • 0
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    “I herd, India has some involvement. It is India which made the Estate Tamils political and they are asking wages that can not tolerate and that will jack up the production cost.

  • 0
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    Lifting the ban on asbestos is a criminal act. What. A Disgraceful govt. The next could be dumping nuclear waste. No civilised country permits the use of asbestos at it is clearly proven that it causes lung cancer.What the hell is wrong with this govt?? No govt in the world even the Maldives will agree to importing materials that are a health hazard to its people. What has the Minister for Health got to say on this. This is an absolute calamity for the country.

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