In the early 1920s, world exports of tea were around 310,000 metric tons per annum. Of this, 75% came from British plantations in India and Ceylon and 9%, from Dutch producers in the Netherlands East Indies. During this time, the United Kingdom absorbed 60% of total world tea exports.
However, in the Netherlands East Indies, tea production increased dramatically and exports from Java/Sumatra grew from 35000 tons in 1921 to 72000 tons at the end of the decade.
In 1929, the British and Dutch producers, fearful of a world surplus and a subsequent drop in tea prices, agreed to restrict crop and exports on a voluntary basis. Unfortunately, the agreement was abandoned in 1931 with the British blaming the Dutch for failing to hold back the sale of smallholder leaf tea and for not bringing down exports.
The British government, in an attempt to reinforce the position of its producers brought back import duty on tea with a higher levy placed on tea from outside the Commonwealth. In addition, exports were increased to markets outside the UK and the public were strongly encouraged through an advertising campaign to ‘Buy British’. However, growth of production and exports from Java/Sumatra continued, the world market was unable to absorb the additional stocks and supplies causing average prices of tea in London to fall to nine and a half pence per pound, whilst in Amsterdam, tea prices were lower still.
An increasing friction between the British and Dutch Tea Associations, and the prospect of a further decline in the market, prompted further negotiations to find a solution to the problem.
The International Tea Committee (ITC) was a result of these negotiations and was set up in 1933 by representatives of the tea growers in India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia) to administer the Regulation Scheme under the terms of the International Tea Agreement, concluded on 9th February 1933, with the approval and support of the Governments of each of the three participating countries. In addition to its function as administrator of the regulation scheme, the ITC was to collect and compile statistics and information relating to tea production, exports, consumption and stocks in the producing countries as well as in all other countries.
The scheme stayed in place until 31st March 1955 and was not thereafter renewed, but an agreement was reached between the governments of the participating countries for the continuance of the International tea Committee as a centre for the collection and publication of statistics and other information relating to tea.
In 1979, full membership of the ITC was extended to include consumer countries and subsequently, new categories for Associate and Corporate members were introduced. In 1986 the ITC became a limited company.
The International Tea Committee has been providing the tea industry with valuable statistical information for over 80 years and is supported by many of the major tea producing and consumer nations in the world. We aim to continue to produce timely, accurate, impartial data and to remain the definitive source of information for the industry.