India eyes duty-free access of Tripura tea to Bangladesh

Local tea growers say they will face ruination if such facility is given

Staff Correspondent | Published: 00:00, Aug 18,2019


A file photo shows a tea garden worker plucking tea leaves at Durgabari tea garden estate on the outskirts of Agartala, capital of India’s northeastern state of Tripura. — Reuters photo

India wants duty-free access of tea from its northeastern state of Tripura to Bangladesh.

Indian foreign affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishanker may raise the issue, among others, during his upcoming visit to Bangladesh scheduled for August 20 and 21.

Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das in a recent meeting with Bangladesh foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque informed that Jaishanker would want to know the progress on the issues that they had been raising in connection with facilitation of their bilateral trade.

Shahidul in a recent letter sought ‘personal attention’ of National Board of Revenue chairman Md Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan for addressing the issues at the earliest.

‘I do believe we need to firm up Bangladesh position on these issues wherein your personal intervention may be useful,’ Shahidul wrote the NBR chairman on July 23.

Given the excellent relations with India, the NBR may accord due considerations as far as possible, which could be a good outcome of the visit, he said.

India may also take up some other trade and tariff related issues, including removal of port restrictions on 18 Indian products particularly through Akhaura, tax exemption for implementation of Akhaura-Agartala rail link grant project and exemption from payment of advance income tax by ONGC Videsh Ltd which is engaged in drilling of two offshore wells in Bangladesh.

The country might also seek exemption from payment of value-added tax on the constitution of project management consultant for the evaluation of dredging project on Ashuganj-Zakiganj stretch of the River Kushiyara and Sirajganj-Daikhawa stretch of the River Jamuna.

India has been raising some of the issues during various bilateral meetings, including commerce secretary-level talks and joint group of customs meeting.

Currently, 92 per cent duties and taxes are applicable to import of tea in the country. India also imposes 104 per cent duty on import of tea.

NBR officials said that they informed the foreign secretary that the tariff issue was involved with the question of protecting interest of a number of stakeholders and it required time for taking opinions from all the stakeholders on the issue.

The NBR will make its decision on the issue after getting opinions from the stakeholders, they said.

Expressing deep concern over India’s seeking duty-free access for its tea, Bangladeshiya Cha Sangsad (Bangladesh Tea Association) chairman M Shah Alam urged the government not to entertain the demand for the interest of domestic tea industry and should continue with the existing tariff structure for tea import.

‘The local tea industry will face ruination, even die if the government allows duty-free tea import from Tripura,’ he told New Age on August 8.

The local market has already been flooded with smuggled tea from Tripura, he said, adding that local tea would not be able to compete with Indian tea if it got duty-free benefits.

The sector has also been going through several challenges, including cost of production due to rise in prices of inputs such as fertiliser, insecticide and pesticide, and hike in wages of workers, he added.

Despite all the odds, the production of tea in the country is increasing with improved quality, he said.

Lives and livelihood of more than 10 lakh people, including 1.50 lakh tea workers, would be severely affected if Bangladesh entertains the India’s demand, he added.

According to latest data of Bangladesh Tea Board, more than 82.13 million kilogrammes of tea were produced in 166 tea gardens across the country in 2018, up from 78.95 million kg produced in the previous year.

Domestic consumption was 90.45 million kg in 2018 against 85.93 million kg in 2017, the data showed.

Bangladesh also imported around 7.44 million kg of tea in 2018.

Tea export dropped to only 0.65 million kg in the year from that of 2.56 million kg in 2017.

According to a December report of Press Trust of India, Tripura was also planning to export tea through a tea auction centre at Srimangal in Bangladesh, only five kilometres off Kailashahar in Unakoti of Tripura, to avoid long journey to auction markets in Siliguri or Kolkata.

Quoting Tripura Tea Development Corporation Ltd chairman Santosh Saha, the PTI said that Tripura chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb had already taken up the issue with the then Indian commerce minister Suresh Prabhu.

The Indian Chamber of Commerce has also taken up the matter with the Bangladesh government, it said.

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