India Tea Exports Down 25%

India's tea exports fell by a quarter on year in February due to low availability and weak demand from Russia, Basudeb Banerjee, chairman of the Tea Board of India, said Wednesday.

Exports in February totaled 12.0 million kilograms compared with 16.1 million kg a year earlier, according to the state-run board.

Production problems in southern India have impacted the availability of orthodox tea, Mr. Banerjee told Dow Jones Newswires. "Also, because of the economic slowdown, the demand has come down from Russia and most of the Western markets," he added.

Russia imports mostly orthodox tea - premium tea that is selectively processed.

India, the world's second-largest tea producer and exporter, is shifting its focus to Middle East markets to make up for lower exports to other regions, Banerjee said.

Mr. Banerjee said he expects tea exports in the financial year ended March 31 to be above the previous year's level of 185.3 million kg.

February output fell to 15.3 million kg from 17.8 million kg a year earlier.

Mr. Banerjee said the first flush teas - India's early season tea crop, generally considered to be of the highest quality - have been affected by drought-like conditions in the northeastern state of Assam.

"So the season has been delayed a bit - and certainly the first flush crop will be down," he said, adding that rain in the last week has provided some relief.

Picking of flush teas usually begins in March.

Production will likely be slightly lower in 2008-09 compared with the 2007-08 level of 945.3 million kg.