Tea growers and enterprises should step up application of national quality standards and improve product packaging and design if they are to reverse a first quarter decline in exports, experts say.

A report in the Industry and Trade newspaper cited the experts as saying the failure to adopt VietGAP (national Good Agricultural Practice) standards has hurt the industry, with Vietnamese tea fetching lower prices than the produce of other countries.

VietGap sets criteria for selection of varieties and rootstocks, land management, application of fertilisers and additives as well as chemicals (including crop protection products).

The report quoted Doan Xuan Hoa, deputy head of the Agro-Forestry Processing and Salt Industry Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, as saying policy incentives were needed to have more farmers and enterprises adopt VietGap standards for their tea plantations.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in the first quarter of 2014, tea exports fell year-on-year by 15.4 percent in volume and 14 percent in value to 24,000 tonnes and 37 million USD respectively.

Tea exports to Pakistan, the largest importer of Vietnamese tea, fell 13 percent in volume and two percent in value, the report said.

Nguyen Huu Tai, Chairman of the Vietnam Tea Association (Vitas), blamed the "unsatisfactory" export performance on several difficulties faced by exporters in buying, distributing and shipping tea products.

For instance, the unstable political situation in major importing countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan has negatively affected exports, he said.

Tai also said he remained optimistic despite the first quarter decline in exports.

Vitas estimates Vietnam will export 138,000 tonnes of tea this year to earn 222 million USD, more or less matching last year's figures.

The association plans to help its members participate in several international tea exhibitions in the UAE and Thailand this year to help them seek more overseas markets, Tai said.-VNA