How has the pandemic reshuffled the ranking of tea exports in the world?


Global tea exports through the spring months of 2021 had not offset setbacks in 2020 when tea sales from all countries declined to $7.1 billion, a shortfall of -8.6% compared to 2019. Keep reading the article to know more about “How has the pandemic reshuffled the ranking of tea exports in the world?”

Ranking of tea exports among some major countries

                                                   Green tea trees

China retains its dominance, earning a 28.7% share of tea export value globally in 2020 with more than $2 billion in sales, nearly double Kenya’s $1.1 billion export earnings. But overall export volume is down 11.5% year-over-year, according to China Tea Marketing Association (CTMA) statistics.

Sri Lanka’s tea exports were valued at $712 million, which is down but well ahead of India, which experienced sharp declines through 2020. Hard-hit by the pandemic with an estimated 1.1 million deaths, India’s tea industry earned $692 million from tea exports in 2020 and is likely to see a significantly greater decline in volume in 2021, according to the Tea Board of India.

The board estimated Indian exports would decline 15% from the 208 million kilos exported in 2020. January through March, exports declined 13% compared to 2020 and were down by 29% compared to 2019. Total production stands at 46 million kilos through March, compared to 53 million kilos during the same period in 2020. Exports may decline by 30 to 40 million kilos for the year.

                                                    Tea growing area

Poland earned $264.5 million in sales to emerge as one of the top five exporters by value, surpassing Germany, which ranked 6th, and the UK, which ranked 9th according to World’s Top Exports. Analyst Daniel Workman writes that among the top exporters, “the fastest growing tea exporters from 2019 to 2020 were The Netherlands (up 22%), Japan (up 12.5%), Indonesia (up 4.3%), and Poland, up 3.6% by value.”

Countries with the greatest decline in tea exports by value include Vietnam (down 43.9%), United Arab Emirates (down 40.9%), the US (down 20.6%), Taiwan (down 19.7%), and Sri Lanka, down 18.3%.

“By value, the top five exporters generate more than 67.7% of exports and the 15 top tea exporting countries shipped 85.9% of global exports in 2020,” writes Workman.

How did China reach the top 1 position of export tea?

Last year presented surprisingly good export opportunities for China. The General Administration of Customs reported China sold 158,000 metric tons of tea to 71 belt and road countries in 2020. The tea was valued at $882 million. The top five destinations are Morocco, Uzbekistan, Russia, Afghanistan, and Thailand.

Total exports are down in both green and black tea categories during the first months of 2021 compared to spring 2020, according to CTMA.

“From January to May of 2021, China’s cumulative export volume of tea was 135,700 metric tons, a year-on-year decrease of 5.8%. The export value was $788 million, an increase of 0.71% year-on-year,” according to CTMA. Average export prices rose 15% to $6.41 year-on-year in May. The January through May average price was $5.80 per kilo, up 7% compared to the same period last year.

                                              Green tea leaves on the tree

The European Union and the US tied as top export destinations for Chinese tea at $45 million. Chinese tea accounted for 34% of total US tea imports in May, the world’s largest green tea exporter. The average price of global tea imports at $3.82 in May vs. $4.38 per kilo average for Chinese tea, 33.6% of all green tea import (volume) was from China, but only 15.6% of value.

According to Trading Economics which reports China Customs data exports to Hong Kong ($27 million), Japan ($14 million), and Vietnam ($12 million) round out the top five trading partners. UK tea imports from China, which are no longer counted in the EU, were $7 million in May 2021.

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