The unique teas of Darjeeling last week were granted international trade protection by the European Union. Registration as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) discourages adulteration and fraudulent origin claims and culminates a process begun in 1983.
European Union-sanctioned geographical areas are recognized by the World Trade Organization under the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights treaties of 1995.
Unscrupulous traders were marketing an estimated 40 metric tons of Darjeeling annually by the 1980s, an amount four ttimes greater than the total production of all the gardens in the small region.
In 1983 the Darjeeling Planters’ Association invested in a seal to identify genuine Darjeeling tea and in 2004 Darjeeling became India’s first GI product under the 1999 Geographical Indications of Goods Act (effective 2003). Adulteration and fraudulent origin claims continue to plague the teas of Darjeeling and the new tag will help protect the products of Darjeeling from misuse and imitation.
“This is yet another milestone in the long journey of worldwide tea industry to protect their extraordinary teas,” says grower Rajiv Lochan, adding, “Darjeeling should not be alone in doing it.” He cited the benefits of protecting teas from famous regions “like Long Jing or Pu‘erh or Da Hong Pao or Tie Guan Yin.”
“Only then will we be able to get correct prices for these wonderful but exploited teas. Only then will we be able to reward their workers,” says Lochan, who managed several Darjeeling plantations before founding Lochan Tea Ltd., headquartered in Siliguri and his own estate along the Doke River in Bihar.
The trade name Darjeeling appears on more than 1,000 agricultural products sold in the European Union, according to the European Commission, the EU's executive body. Beginning Nov. 10, 2011 only products containing 100 percent Darjeeling tea can be marketed as Darjeeling or risk fines, confiscation at boarder crossings and recalls.
The exception is European blends that typically contain 49 percent Darjeeling tea and were marketed as Darjeeling prior to Oct. 14, 2007. The EU allowed these firms five years to rename their products, a concession to EU-based manufacturers that immediately drew criticism from India’s producers.
Sanjay Bansal, former chairperson of the Darjeeling Tea Association, told The (Calcutta) Telegraph “we will definitely consult our lawyers and file an objection against the clause as early as possible.”
Darjeeling annually sells every leaf it produces with some single-estate organic (DJ-1) teas sold direct bringing hundreds of dollars and more per kilo. The average price of INRs 205 ($4.15/kg) in 2008 has risen substantially, earning INRs 236 ($4.90/kg) in 2010 compared to an average price of INRs 64 ($1.30/kg) for all tea that year.
In June 2011 Darjeeling teas averaged INRs 323 ($6.55/kg) while the average price for all teas sold at auction was INRs 63 ($1.29), according to the India Tea Board.
European buyers receive about 60 percent of Darjeeling’s annual production of 10 million kgs. Russia (CIS), Asian and North American markets consume the rest. Domestic demand for the costly tea is low as even the tea workers of Darjeeling prefer the darker full-bodied teas of Assam for their morning brew. Kolkata is the largest domestic market.
Demand is growing by 3 percent annually but India, the largest consumer of black tea in the world, ranks 53rd in per capita consumption, according to the UN Food & Agricultural Organization.
The terrain is what makes Darjeeling uniquely flavorful. The EU included 87 estates of sizes ranging from 113 to 580 hectares in the protected GI. The total area under tea is 19,500 ha making the average estate 224.14 ha. Production in 2008 averaged 136,300 kgs per garden, according to the Tea Board of India. Darjeeling growers specialize in hand-processed orthodox tea. Every garden has its own factory. The majority are certified organic.
Yields are very low in the mountainous northern valleys of West Bengal, averaging 650 kilograms per hectare in 2008 compared to low-lying regions that produce 1,800 kgs/ha. Total production has declined as worldwide demand for Darjeeling teas increase. Labor costs are high and 50 percent of the land granted for tea cultivation within the protected GI area sits idle.
All of Darjeeling’s estates are permanently owned by the state government of West Bengal and leased for a minimum of 30 years and a maximum of 99 years, renewable on expiry. Leases can be transferred or sold.
Datta writes that the India Tea Board first sought to protect genuine Darjeeling tea from fakes more than 20 years ago by registering the Darjeeling logo and name as a certified trademark in 1986 under the Indian Trade and Certification Marks Act of 1958, and the logo as an artistic work under the Copyright Act of 1957. The Trade and Certification Marks Act were later replaced by the Trademarks Act of 1999.
In 2007, the Tea Board of India and the Darjeeling Tea Association invoked a provision in the EU Commission Regulation 5001 to ask Brussels to accord the PGI status to Darjeeling Tea.
“We have also made an application before the Japanese Property Right Organization for granting of the Production of Regional Origin (PRO) in Japan and also before the Trade Administration Authority (TAA) of USA for granting of Community Collection Mark in the USA,” Bansal told The (Calcutta) Telegraph. He added that PRO and TAA were similar to the PGI tag.
Darjeeling tea has some form of protection in Germany, Japan and Australia but these were largely with regard to the trade mark and the logo. “The protection in these three countries only ensured that no other products could be sold if the Darjeeling Tea’s logo was used,” said Bansal.
Since the 1960s blenders have successfully passed off Sri Lankan and later Kenyan tea as Indian Darjeeling. More recently, large amounts of tea grown in Nepal are slipped across the border and marketed domestically as Darjeeling.
In a 188-page report by the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta, author Tarit Kumar Datta writes “misappropriation of the name is still taking place. In the absence of adequate regular monitoring, Nepalese tea is entering India both in processed and unprocessed form, flooding Indian markets. Nepalese tea resembles Darjeeling tea and is sold under the name Darjeeling, thereby receiving the benefits of the reputation of genuine Darjeeling tea.”
Datta describes in detail the history of protecting the origin’s biggest cash crop which has a certification mark dating to 1958, a collective mark and “home” GI status. Darjeeling’s teas are only the seventh non-EU product to be awarded protection and the first Indian product to be recognized.
"The good reputation built up by the GI producers has to be protected effectively and jointly by the government and private sector stakeholders. Protection and boosting of the GI reputation thus require an effective law enforcement system for legal protection, awareness-raising among consumers, and investment in marketing and promotion by the industry stakeholders themselves, so that customers and consumers are put in a position to recognize the distinctive quality of the GI," Datta writes.
"Mere registration of the quality sign under the appropriate law or act in a given country does not end the story. After registration, the quality sign has to be protected from piracy worldwide in accordance with the provisions of the law or act. It is a very hard task to operate as a watchdog all over the world, monitoring the conflicting marks that are found and taking appropriate action against misuse of the Darjeeling name and quality sign anywhere in the world. It also requires major expenditure and DTA is incapable of bearing such a load, so that it depends on the Tea Board. More than 100 cases of misuse have been identified, 75 percent of which have been settled through negotiation and 25 percent through a court sentence, all in favour of Darjeeling tea," writes Datta.