ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is facing the risk of a complete ban on tea exports to Japan due to the use of alternative weedicides to glyphosate and diplomatic and bureaucratic disasters, the head of an industry body has warned.
Ceylon Tea Traders Association, Chairman Anselm Perera said that exporters are already having trouble exporting to Japan, and some shipments have been returned to Sri Lanka.
“Japan has already threatened total suspension of Ceylon Tea if the ban on glyphosate is not lifted immediately. We will then face a natural economic disaster,” he said.
Last October Japan introduced stricter maximum residue levels (MRLs) for the chemicals hexaconazole and MCPA, which are now being used by Sri Lankan tea producers to kill weeds due to a local ban on glyphosate use.
Japan imported 7.8 million kilogrammes of tea from Sri Lanka in 2017, marginally up from the 7.7 million kilogrammes a year earlier, according to Sri Lanka Tea Board data.
However, Perera said that Japan purchases premium grade tea, and in value the Ceylon Tea exports are worth around 50 million US dollars.
He said that the Japanese government had informed of the introduction of the stricter residual limits to the Sri Lankan embassy in Japan well in advance of them coming into effect.
“The embassy in 2017, perhaps due to an oversight or a failure, totally failed in their duty to transmit this information to the Tea Board or the TRI (Tea Research Institute).Once again,disastrous bureaucratic breakdowns,” Perera said.
He said that if Sri Lanka was informed earlier, an appeal could have been made to Japanese authorities at a high level, well before the introduction of the new MRLs.
Meanwhile, the European Union has also tightened residue levels, for diuron, another weed killer used by Sri Lankan tea growers due to the glyphosate ban, Perera said.
According to him, the TRI is in the process of organizing field trials for new MRLs introduced by foreign markets.
“Reliable sources inform us that the Japanese authorities are in full favour of revising the MRLs of hexaconazole and MCPA based on our MRI field trials,” he said.
Currently, Sri Lankan tea exporters have to do further testing of their tea in India, or high cost tests in Japan, in order to satisfy Japanese authorities, Perera said.
Meanwhile, despite President Maithripala Sirisena agreeing to remove the ban of glyphosate in late April, the decision has not been gazetted into law two months on, Perera said.
“It is ironic to note that three years ago the ban was effective from the very next day after announcement but de-banning takes many months to be introduced. This is the beauty of bureaucracy,” he said.
As the ban continues, the black market remains flooded with mixes of chemicals which smugglers are branding as glyphosate, according to Perera.
He said that some tea planters are also using alternative chemicals in a highly irresponsible manner, worsening the problem.
Perera said that the decision to ban glyphosate locally had been based on non-scientific and political motivated reasons, and implemented without warning.
Farmers in the main rice growing regions in Sri Lanka have been experiencing a chronic kidney disease of unknown origin, which politicians and activists responsible for the ban had attributed to the use of glyphosate.
Perera warned that if the issues related to chemicals in tea exports are not resolved soon, foreign buyers will start sourcing tea from Sri Lanka’s competitors. (Colombo/July02/2018)