Tea crisis looms as prices surge ahead of Ramazan

Ahead of Ramazan the price of black tea (loose) has swelled to Rs1,600 per kg from Rs1,100 in the last 15 days as around 250 containers still stuck at the port that arrived from late December 2022 to early January.

After Jan 21, banks had filed financial instruments thus allowing only those importers to pay duties who received 180 days defer payment telex from their suppliers. But the containers of those who failed to get this facility from their suppliers are still stranded at the port.

A retailer said a leading brand has raised the price of 170-gram Danedar and Elaichi packs to Rs320 and Rs350 from Rs290. The 900 and 420-gram packs now cost Rs1,480 and Rs720 as against Rs1,350 and Rs550. Other packers are set to follow suit.

Zeeshan Maqsood, Convener Standing Committee of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) on Tea, said that imports are currently under crisis which may lead to huge shortages in March.

He said banks say they have instructions from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to release documents on 180-day defer contracts or 180-day letters of credit (LCs).

He added that the situation is getting worse because if anyone gets these containers released on 180-day defer payment then how he would calculate the cost of imported tea as nobody knows what would be the dollar rate after six months on the interbank market?

Mr Zeeshan, who is also an executive member of the Pakistan Tea Association (PTA), said the banks are not opening LCs saying they do not have any instructions from the SBP for new contracts.

He feared that tea price may hit Rs2,500 per kg in Ramazan in case stuck-up consignments were not released.

As a result, the welfare associations may not be able to distribute tea in ration bags due to shortage and high cost, he added.

Mr Zeeshan suggested that Pakistan should sign a Prefrential Trade Agreement (PTA) with Kenya. “We import 90 per cent of Kenyan tea from a weekly auction in Mombasa where all African Origin teas are sold.”

Kenya is the gateway to Africa connecting seven landlocked countries. Pakistan imports teas worth around $500m annually from Kenya and exports only $250m of different items.

“If PTA is signed with Kenya then Pakistan exports will increase to over $2.5bn annually through shipments of items like rice, surgical goods, textiles, tractors, electronics, IT, cement and many other items which Kenya imports from other countries.

PTA would also help in bringing down tea prices and mutual dialogue can be started between the two countries to boost trade in other currencies for mutual interest, he hoped.

The country’s official tea imports in IHFH23 stood at 128,057 tonnes ($318m) versus 129,693 tonnes ($300m) in the same period last year. The average per tonne price in IHFY23 stood at $2,489 as compared to $2,317, official data showed.

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