Higher tea prices brewing?

Six of the major tea producing countries – India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Rwanda and Malawi – have formed an International Tea Producers’ Forum (ITPF). Together these countries produce slightly more than the world’s tea. The hope of the members of the new ITPF is that their cartel will allow them to increase the price of tea to the growers and to create greater price stability.

According to the Assam Tribune article below:

ITPF’s main objectives include – safeguarding the interests of the tea-producing countries, evolving collective solutions for the problems facing the producers, providing technical cooperation, sharing of technology and expertise by the member countries, undertaking market studies and research projects to address any specific issues concerning tea in general or any variety of tea, among others.

And according to the article from Sri Lanka’s Daily News:

Chairman of the Planters’ Association of Ceylon, which represents the interests of 23 Regional Plantation Companies, Lalith Obeyesekere said this was a landmark occasion. Sri Lanka particularly looks to the forum to provide long-term sustainability to the tea industry in maintaining price stability and quality standards, among the other objectives set out in the mandate… The Planters’ Association said they were confident that Sri Lanka could use the ITPF to re-look at the industry in order that local tea producers realize their full potential.

Sri Lanka’s plantation industries minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said:

The bulk of production is in the hands of smallholders. So there’s a need to increase their incomes. Price stability is definitely important.

The main aim of the ITPF over the longer term is likely to be to raise tea prices. The chart shows international tea prices from 1983 to the present day. As you can see, they have fluctuated considerably. Note that these are prices in nominal terms and hence do not take inflation into account. Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.

But if the main aim is to increase prices to tea growers, how could this be achieved? One objective of the ITPF is to stimulate demand for tea by ‘promoting tea consumption through generic promotional campaigns’. The aim would be to encourage people to switch from coffee and soft drinks.

But to take advantage of its market power, the cartel might also want to reduce tea production, thereby pushing up the price. This, of course, would be more feasible if it had a larger than 50% share of the market.

Although production quotas are not currently part of the agreement, these are likely to be considered at future meetings, especially if the three other large producers – China, Vietnam and Iran – can be persuaded to join.

China, with some 38% of the market, is the world’s largest tea producer. Although it sent an observer to the meeting (as did Iran), it was not one of the signatories. If it could be persuaded to join the cartel, this would increase its power. Nevertheless, China specialises in different types of tea, mainly green teas, and is not the world’s biggest exporter – that is Kenya.


Tea nations join forces Radio New Zealand (25/1/13)
International Tea Producers’ Forum formed Assam Tribune, Ajit Patowary (23/1/13)
Planters’ Association upbeat on newly formed International Tea Producer’s Forum Daily News (Sri Lanka) (26/1/13)
Leaf Lobby: Sri Lanka hosts tea producer forum Lanka Business Online (24/1/13)
‘Tea cartel’ formed by biggest producing nation BBC News (23/1/13)
Tea producers brew up plan to raise prices Emirates 24/7 (23/1/13)


Tea Monthly Price – US cents per Kilogram Index Mundi


  1. What are the stated aims of the newly formed ITPF? How realistic are they?
  2. What conditions are necessary for a cartel to be successful in raising prices over the long term?
  3. With reference to the chart, what can you say about the real price of tea over the period 1983 to 2013?
  4. To what extent are these conditions met by the ITPF?
  5. Why may a rise in tea prices in the supermarkets not result in a rise in prices to tea growers?
  6. How may tea growers benefit from the ITPF even if the Forum does not result directly in a rise in prices to growers?
  7. How can game theory help to explain the possible behaviour of members of a cartel and producers outside the cartel?