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Darjeeling Tea's New Certificate of Origin

Jane Pettigrew explains the Tea Board of India's new scheme to protect Darjeeling Tea.

As Tea International has previously documented, the Tea Board of India has for the past few years been operating a system of logos that now appear on thousands of packets of Indian tea from the country's three major producing areas - Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri. The aims of the scheme have always been, first, to indicate clearly the origin of the tea in the packet, second, to guarantee to the consumer the authenticity of that tea, and third, to raise the public's awareness of specialty teas from India.

Now, the Tea Board of India is set to introduce a Darjeeling Certification Trade Mark Scheme to further protect the interests of the Darjeeling tea producers and, in the Board's own words, "ensure the supply chain integrity for Darjeeling tea so that the tea leaving the shores of India and claimed as Darjeeling tea worldwide is truly genuine Darjeeling tea. ... In the wake of a new international trade regime mandated by the World Trade Organization (WTO), it has become imperative to streamline and strengthen the existing legal procedures for administration of intellectual property rights including geographical indications in India." And, as Ashok Kumar of the Darjeeling Planters' Association says, "In this matter, the Darjeeling tea industry is following the lead of world famous Scotch Whiskey of the UK, and the ‘Champagne' sparkling wines of France. The Tea Board of India has taken the responsibility of ensuring that only 100% genuine Darjeeling tea carries the label DARJEELING - CTM (Certification of Trade Mark) and reaches the customer in all purity."

The new system of Certification is being introduced because the Tea Board wishes to streamline the procedures for a "consistent and easily verifiable use of the name Darjeeling in relation to tea, in all its forms, and the Darjeeling logo (a lady holding a bud and two leaves) as guarantees of Darjeeling tea."

Why Protect Darjeeling?
The aims of the Tea Board of India in instigating this new scheme are to indicate trade origin; to distinguish the teas from Darjeeling from the teas of other producers; and to indicate that the teas have been certified by an authorized person to guarantee origin, quality, composition, and mode of manufacture. The new Certification of Trade Mark (CTM) will operate side by side with the specialty tea logos. It is felt that this extra protection is particularly important in the case of Darjeeling teas. As Ashok Kumar explains, "The distinctive, exclusive and rare character of Darjeeling tea is the result of several factors. The gardens are situated at elevations from 2000 feet to 6500 feet on steep slopes which provide ideal natural drainage for the generous rainfall that the district receives. Coupled with this, the intermittent cloud and sunshine combine to impart the unique character of Darjeeling tea. All of these advantages, however, are not enough to secure the interests of the Darjeeling consumers and the trade. The mountain areas produce just about 8000 tons of tea in a year, out of which 50% – 60% (i.e. perhaps 5000 tonnes) is shipped overseas to connoisseurs in Germany, the UK, the U.S., Japan, and many other countries. However, it is commonly believed that up to 40,000 tonnes of tea are passed off in the world market as Darjeeling." The Tea Board of India recognizes that Darjeeling tea's distinctive quality and flavor has led to its current popularity and patronage all over the world. As the Board says, "Any member of the trade or public in India or abroad ordering Darjeeling tea will expect the tea so ordered, advertised, or offered for sale to be the tea cultivated, grown, and produced in the District of Darjeeling." The Darjeeling logo is today widely used by producers, packagers and exporters under license and authority of the Tea Board of India.

How the Scheme Will Work
All producers, manufacturers, packagers, blenders, exporters, and traders who wish to sell tea labeled as Darjeeling tea will have to apply to the Tea Board of India or the Darjeeling Planters' Association to use the Certification of Trade Mark. The Certification will be awarded to teas produced by the 87 authorized Darjeeling estates or gardens and sold as single source or blended Darjeeling teas. It will not be allowed for Darjeeling teas that have been blended with teas from any other producing regions. Once the authorizing body is satisfied that applicants will only use the CTM for teas coming from Darjeeling and conforming to the appropriate standards, licenses will be granted. Anyone who does not apply for a license to use the Mark will not be entitled to use the word Darjeeling on packets of tea - even if they contain teas that originate from the areas 87 gardens. Packages and packets will only be allowed to carry the name Darjeeling if the tea has been produced and traded by a person who is authorized to use the CTM scheme. As Ashok Kumar explains, "Each Darjeeling estate (there are only 87) has obtained a license from the Tea Board and will furnish full details of production of individual lots, which will be entered into a computerized record. Whenever an exporter wishes to ship a tea, he will approach the Tea Board for a Certificate of Origin which will be issued after due verification of garden production records." The authorizing bodies will not require samples of tea to be sent for approval, but they do reserve the right to inspect premises or call for and test samples of relevant teas. Any licensee will be required to display on consumer packets and/or on any bulk packaging his or her individual CTM User License Number. The new certification framework adds to the Tea Board's existing statutory rights and functions under the Tea Act, and such functions in the Board's words, "include the right to control or regulate the use of any label or its container which bears any false claim for such tea or is misleading in any material particular." The new scheme will allow the Tea Board to bring actions for any infringements of the Certification Marks. Ashok Kumar no doubt expresses the feelings of his fellow planters: "The Darjeeling producers hope that customers the world over will welcome this positive action for assuring genuine supply from the tea gardens located in the Himalayan mountain ranges in north-east India."

Tea & Coffee - June/July 2000

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