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Fair Trade Tea

The concept of Fair Trade attempts to address the imbalance between the wages paid to workers, particularly in the Third World, who produce the tea and the money, made by those who trade in it. By the Fair Trade system, traders purchase direct from small producer groups and sell through mail-order catalogs and special retail outlets. Money earned by the producers goes toward improving the quality of life for workers through such schemes as pension funds, alternative training opportunities, environmental improvements, and welfare and medical programs. For example, in 1995, the first Fair Trade premiums reached Ambootia Tea Estate in Darjeeling, India, where in 1968, a part of the plantation crashed into the valley below. The money is attempting to arrest the landslide (the biggest in South Asia) and prevent the destruction that poses such an enormous threat to the garden, to the local environment, and to the economic stability of the plantation workers.

Fair Trade teas from various approved sources in Darjeeling, Assam, Southern India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe are available in a number of countries, including Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Luxemburg, the U.K., The Netherlands, Austria, Canada, Japan, and the U.S., and now also appear in the Oxfam catalog.

World Trends in the Tea Industry in the last 40 or 50 years, tea production has expanded by over 156 percent, and 200 I saw a record crop of over 3,000 million tons, exceeding 1998 figures of 2,963 million tons. This is the result of improved production methods, innovative planting techniques, the breeding of selected clonal plants, improved pest and disease controls, new machinery, and advances in tea sciences and technology. Alongside the increased rate of production, the steady decline of tea prices since 1963 has led to problems in some producing countries where rising costs of production are not offset by profits.

There are fluctuations in the output of individual countries depending on weather patterns, political and economic stability, and the individual country's commitment to tea production. Mauritius, Uganda, and China, are currently reducing their production.

Import and export patterns have also changed significantly over the last 40 or 50 years, with demand from the U.K. Showing a downward trend. Britain is the biggest consumer of tea after Ireland, but in 1995, imports were 8 percent down on the previous year. This was blamed partly on a very hot summer. And in the U.S., the total of
89,618 tons imported was 16 percent lower than in 1994.This was partly due to over-optimistic predictions of demand for ready-to-drink bottled and canned teas in 1994.

Pakistan, Russia, and other C.I.S. countries increased their total imports due, in the case of the latter two, to economic recovery and favorable commercial conditions provided by the exporting countries. And increased domestic consumption in India, China, and other Asian countries has contributed to a stronger demand in some sectors of the market. Western Europe has also increased its importation of tea due to a wider and growing interest in tea drinking, particularly in Germany and France.

The tea market in all countries faces constant competition from coffee and soft drinks. But among tea drinkers in such countries as the U.K., the U.S., and japan, there is an increasing awareness of different types of tea and a growing demand for a wider variety of good quality specialty teas.

The tea trade is optimistic that current research programs into the health benefits of tea consumption will produce results that will encourage consumers to increase their tea intake. The media is already reporting the fact that tea can help reduce the risk of stroke and thrombosis, and further results of experiments are expected to provide a positive message that will lead to an increased worldwide demand for all types of tea.