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Foreign Minister briefs envoys of major tea importing countries



(November 15, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Government of Sri Lanka is seeking the support of friendly countries who are principal buyers of Ceylon tea, to remain active in the tea market, in order to promote tea exports from Sri Lanka and to maintain price stability. This call was made by Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama yesterday (14 November 2008) at the Foreign Ministry, when he met a group of Ambassadors and diplomats from leading countries importing Ceylon tea.

Speaking further, the Minister said that he was aware that in most of the major markets for Ceylon tea, it is the private sector that plays the dominant role in determining prices, which are influenced by the market forces of demand and supply. However, he observed that governments could still play a complementary role in facilitating the activities of the private tea companies in the market to ensure a sustained demand for tea from Sri Lanka. The Foreign Minister outlined the remedial measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to maintain stable prices for tea at the Colombo auctions, including the activation of a Tea Stabilization Fund, a 6% interest subsidy on bank loans for members of the tea trade, as well as the intervention of the Sri Lanka Tea Board at the Colombo tea auction. He underscored the importance of the tea industry to the Sri Lankan economy, noting that this billion dollar industry accounts for more than 2/3 of the country's agricultural export earnings, contributing 4% to the GDP. Moreover, the tea sector provides direct and indirect employment to around 1.5 million people in Sri Lanka, which translates into family income support for 5 million dependants, roughly a quarter of Sri Lanka's population.

Mr Hasitha De Alwis, Director (Promotion) of the Sri Lanka Tea Board, who attended the meeting, gave a comprehensive presentation to the assembled diplomats on the impact of the current global financial crisis on the Sri Lankan tea industry. He highlighted the fact that Sri Lanka is the world's largest producer and exporter of orthodox black tea, and that it enjoys a 19% market share of global exports. The diplomats, who participated in the ensuing discussion, thanked Minister Bogollagama for convening the meeting and assured him that they would keep their respective governments informed of the present situation in the tea market in Sri Lanka. Some of them suggested that it would be useful for a Sri Lankan delegation to be sent to the key markets in order to canvass support of the respective governments to encourage the private sector to continue their active presence in the Sri Lankan tea market.

The Ambassadors of Egypt, Iran, Palestine, Russia and Saudi Arabia, as well as the Charges d'affaires of Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar took part in the meeting. Senior officials of the Foreign Ministry and the Sri Lanka Tea Board were also present.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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