Tea-leaf producers in Namhsan, northern Shan State, are struggling to stay in business due to labour shortages and a surge in untaxed tea from neighbouring China.
“Internationally, tea leaf is regarded as a high-value export product, but local producers in Burma are hit hard by imports from China that evade commercial taxes,” said Tun Myaing, chairman of the Palaung Tea Growers and Producers Association (PTGPA).
“This hampers local production and the government must take action,” he added, calling on the government to impose tax regulations specifically for Chinese teas.
Tun Myaing argued that if Chinese importers are not subject to regulations, local producers “won’t stand a chance”, because Chinese production methods have a much higher yield than the traditional organic methods still used by many in Burma.
“In the past, there used to be around 100 tea-leaf factories in the region, and now there are only around 20,” said Than Zaw, a tea-leaf producer. He said that many are planning to close up shop within a month, and many farmers have already left to find alternative work in neighbouring countries.
“A lot of tea growers have left for China because of the decline in the local industry and security concerns arising from conflict in the region,” he said.
Namhsan, the origin of about 60 percent of Burma’s tea, is situated in northern Shan State near Hsipaw. The area is largely populated by the Palaung ethnic group, also known as Ta-ang, in a pocket of the state surrounded by conflict between the Burmese military and several ethnic armed groups.