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12 May, 2008 02:32

Importing tea to Russia is nightmare

Curbing red tape on small and medium business is among the top priorities for Vladimir Putin in his new role as Russian Prime Minister. The amount of paperwork could be stopping local and foreign firms entering the market.

The amount of paperwork required to import food products into Russia is astounding. Health permits, proof of value and customs declarations needed to process just one brand make up a stuffed file several kilos in weight.

A London firm produces what it claims to be the world’s first tea that’s “carbon neutral”.

The firm exports hand-blended sachets all over the world but its Russian client, supermarket giant Azbuka Vkusa, collects the product in Germany and does the paperwork itself.

The firm’s founder Sharyn Wortman revealed even customs experts don’t understand the rules.

“The guy was so confused talking to us through his translator that the translator ended up having disagreements as part of their presentation,” she recalls.

The head of the industry’s national tea and coffee lobby Ramaz Chanturiya is pinning his hopes on the reasonable tariffs of the World Trade Organization, if Russia succeeds in joining this year.

“Import laws are still based on the Soviet certification system. But we think that within four years of joining the WTO, import tariffs on packaged tea will fall from 20% to 12.5%,” he said.

The WTO works towards zero tariffs between members. Russia has promised to scrap import duty on loose tea within a year of joining.