- Says tea industry continues to sustain Lankan economy despite COVID-19-related disruptions
The Colombo Tea Traders’ Association (CTTA) yesterday hailed the successful conduction of the first-ever tea auction via a digital platform over the weekend, thereby sustaining the economy despite COVID-19-related disruptions.
CTTA in a statement said following a brief period of confusion and hesitancy, caused by the potential implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tea industry had regained its composure and momentum and all its operations were now gradually resuming full capacity islandwide.
It said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in order to drive the wheels of the economy forward at this critical period, had pledged his support to the tea industry, in its capacity as one of the largest net foreign exchange earners of the country, and has acted decisively and positively to facilitate the smooth functioning of this vital industry, on which over two million people of the country depend for their livelihood.
On the directives of the President, Minister of Plantation Industries Dr. Ramesh Pathirana and Acting IGP C.D. Wickramaratne have extended assurances to the industry that it will be granted all necessary permits and authorisations to conduct its operations and movements without hindrance.
As a critical export-oriented industry, it has been granted special status, which would warrant the complete cooperation of relevant State agencies to conduct its legitimate activities unimpeded.
Upon the request of the Sri Lanka Tea Board, all members of stakeholder associations of the Sri Lankan tea industry, comprising tea factory owners, regional plantation companies, tea exporters and tea brokers, have resumed blending, manufacturing, packaging and exporting in their warehouses.
In addition, shipping companies and other service providers are also resuming their operations to ensure that export obligations are met timeously.
This would ensure that the smallholders, a vital component of the tea industry, contributing towards most of the tea production of the country, are safeguarded and would be able to harvest their crop.
Emanating from all this, the industry, on its part, displayed mutual, collective commitment. Following consensus among the stakeholders of the tea industry and with the support of the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board, the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association successfully concluded the weekly tea auction on 18 and 19 March, under challenging circumstances and stringent precautionary measures.
However, it was realised that continuing to assemble such a large number of buyers at a single location would be too great a risk.
Since this situation was unlikely to resolve itself soon, various other alternatives were considered. Eventually it was determined that the most pragmatic solution was to conduct the auction, facilitated by a digital platform, over a period of three days, from 4 to 6 April, and an e-auction was witnessed for the first time, initiated by the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association, the responsibility for which was delegated to the Colombo Tea Brokers’ Association.
Samples of the teas on offer were visually assessed by the tea buyers and duly purchased by registering their bids from remote locations, as a consequence, circumventing the need to expose themselves to any serious health hazards and complying with the social distancing protocol imposed by the Government.
This is a historic event, as it is the first time in 126 years that the tea auction deviated from its conventional ‘out-cry’ system, requiring the physical presence of the buyers, to move into the electronic age, with each buyer engaging in the imperative assignment of purchasing tea for processing and export from a safe location, without having to travel to a central point and intermingling in a crowded environment to do so.
The country needs to achieve economic resurgence to survive the world market crash amidst COVID-19 chaos and the tea industry requires the continued support of the Government to play its important role.
It is vital that the auction should be held at regular intervals without a break, in the context of the economy of our country and the cash flow issues of both the sellers and the buyers.
There are many issues that demand attention and resolution and the tea industry seeks the backing of the Government to enable it to realise its full potential.