Rohan Fernando | Roman Scott | Dr. Harsha de Silva

Sri Lanka should focus more on product innovation and current global trends instead of the dying out value-addition model to get out of the current tea crisis, Chairman of the Calamander Group in Singapore, Roman Scott said. Addressing the 16th Annual General Meeting of the Tea Exporters’ Association (TEA) held at the Cinnamon Grand hotel recently, Scott who also holds ownership of Sri Lanka’s Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf chain in Sri Lanka, amongst other interests said most exporters’ are unfortunately focused on the value-addition model and are blinded by the success of some of the local tea brands have had in the past through their presence in the international market.

“If companies do want to pursue this feat, the best method is to sell it to large retailers prior to launching a product of their own.  At the same time Sri Lanka should move away from traditional markets in the Middle East and Russia and cater to the rich Western markets who have sophisticated consumers with the buying power,” Scott who was the Guest of Honour at the event also graced by Deputy Minister of External Affairs Dr. Harsha de Silva, as  the Chief Guest said.

The AGM that was held under the theme of ‘Teanomics,’ focused mainly on all potential and positive opportunities in the global tea industry. Roman Scott founded the Calamander Group in 2006 and its fore-runner family office in 1997. He did his first real estate deal, a heritage building, before graduation, and over 50 deals since and is responsible for the Group’s real estate and financial services sectors and investment strategy.

Speaking at the event Deputy Minister of External Affairs Dr. Harsha de Silva pointed out that the present government has recognized the problem in the industry and has taken into serious consideration the fact that human capital should be valued and given top priority. He also added that they have a plan based on competitiveness, efficiency and productivity in order to make Sri Lanka the most challenging economy in the global market place.
In his address, Rohan Fernando – Chairman of the Tea Exporters Association said, “The opportunities for tea in the global market come in many forms. I believe that the way forward is by expanding our product and reach. While we cannot ignore that most of the top global tea brands have had their origins in Ceylon and therefore our tea exporters should take on the world by diversifying into other segments of tea and secure the business on branding and service excellence.”

At present, the industry has been able to achieve an export revenue of US$ 1.6 billion with an export volume of 320m kilos last year. Although the government’s effort to increase the export revenue of tea towards US$ 5 billion by the year 2020 is a challenging target under the current global tea market situation, the association has already developed strategies to reach a year-on-year growth of 25% in order to achieve this
target, Fernando said.

“Even though the Tea Exporters have empowered themselves to stand firm in the industry, they have tackled many obstacles to avoid all internal and external issues. The cost of tea production in Sri Lanka has been recorded as the highest in the world while the productivity of the workforce has remained low. This is an area that deserves much focus as it directly impacts the country’s competitiveness in the international market which will inevitably lower Sri Lanka’s export revenue. They also believe that all producers should consider re-planting as several of the existing plants are old,” he pointed out.

At the AGM the following were re-elected as office bearers for the next financial year. Rohan Fernando – Chairman, Jayantha Karunaratne – Vice Chairman, Jaliya Devendra – Vice Chairman and Sanjaya Herath – Treasurer.

Head Table (from left)  Sanjaya Herath – Treasurer of TEA,  Ranjith Abeykoon – TEA Secretary General,  Rohan Fernando, TEA Vice Chairman Jayantha Karunaratne and TEA Vice Chairman  Jaliya Devendra