Russian tea row President to contact Putin

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By 2017-12-18

By Ravi Ladduwahetty, Kavindya Chris Thomas and Shaahidah Riza

President Maithripala Sirisena is expected to request Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the temporary ban on Sri Lanka's tea imports which is expected to come into effect today.

The President's Media Division said that the President yesterday announced his decision to write to President Putin, requesting him to end the temporary ban, that resulted, following the discovery of a beetle in a consignment of tea that had been imported from Sri Lanka earlier last week.

The President had made this statement at a public rally in Haputale yesterday.

However, it was noted that the beetle is a pest of grain crops such as rice, and has never been associated with tea.

Minister of Plantations Navin Dissanayake speaking to the media yesterday noted that the Government is taking every possible step to address and resolve this matter.

"This species is normally associated with grain and other similar agricultural products. So this came as a surprise to many of us.

The Ministry and the Tea Board believe that the beetle might have entered the packaging when the vessel that was transporting the tea docked at a foreign port."

Ceylon Today also learns that several local authorities including the Sri Lanka Tea Board and the Foreign Affairs Ministry have also held discussions with the Russian Ambassador to Sri Lanka regarding the matter.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Tea Board Chairman Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda told Ceylon Today that the President's intent to speak with his Russian......Counterpart Vladimir Putin is a positive move since the matter is now being handled at the very highest levels.

He noted that transnational trade containers should be put under stringent sanitation procedures before being refilled with new stocks. These measures, he said are yet to be adopted by the authorities.

He said that there were no new developments since yesterday and that the Government was still awaiting a response from the Russian Government on the request for appointments with the Agriculture Minister of that country, Aleksandr Tkacev Gaffe and his Department.

He also said that it will take another week before the Government would be able to secure appointments with Russian officials for discussions in this regard.

The Sri Lanka delegation will be led by Plantation Industries Minister Navin Dissanayake. Officials from the Tea Research Institute and the Agriculture Ministry will accompany Minister Dissanayake.

Meanwhile Estate Superintends stressed that no insect can infiltrate the packaging material of tea exported from Sri Lanka as world recognized quality standards are followed during the entire process.

Russia is currently the highest buyer of Ceylon Tea. For the first 10 months of this year alone, Russia purchased some 29.5 million kilograms of tea valued at US$ 23 million. This is about 12 per cent of the direct earnings made by the country from this market alone. Sri Lankan tea exports to Russia were 48 million kilograms in 2011 and since then the volumes fell to 36 million kilograms in 2015.

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