COLOMBO: Russia has announced that it will lift its ban on Sri Lankan tea with effect from 30 December.

The ban was imposed by the Russian Federation on tea as well as all agricultural exports from the island nation on the purported grounds of a Khapra beetle being found in a crate that transported the tea.

Sri Lankan Minister of Plantations, Navin Dissanayake confirmed that the ban is to be soon lifted.

The decision to lift the ban was announced after Lanka reversed its decision to ban asbestos. A ban on asbestos would have affected Russia’s export of asbestos to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan government sources confirmed that the decision by Russia was announced on December 25 after detailed discussions between representatives of the two countries. Ceylon Tea holds around 23 per cent of the Russian tea market. Russia is currently the biggest tea buyer from Sri Lanka.

President Maithripala Siri­sena — who was earlier the health minister and a key proponent of the asbestos ban on the justification that asbestos was cancer causing — in a tweet praised Russia’s decision to retract the ban on tea. “Sri Lanka’s diplomacy with Russia has always been exemplary,” Sirisena tweeted adding that “the way the tea exports issue was resolved is yet another example of this friendship.”

He further said that prompt action by the Sri Lankan government has paid off. “This is also a time to thank Russia for cordiality,” President Sirisena added in his tweet but remained silent on the government decision to ditch the asbestos ban.  

A nine-member expert team had rushed to Moscow on Sunday night to hold talks with Russian officials on Monday morning.

“The discussions held were very fruitful and cordial. They had legitimate concerns about the way in which we handled quarantine with regards to agricultural produce. We discussed the concerns the Russian authorities have and have given an undertaking that such an incident will not be repeated in future,” Sri Lanka Tea Board Chairman Rohan Pethiyagoda was quoted in the local media as saying.

Last week the Sri Lankan government lifted the ban imposed on asbestos imports that was set to come into force in 2018. However some government sources claimed that the asbestos ban and the tea ban were only coincidences and not connected to each other.

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2017