If the tea sector is to meet its target of an annual export value of 440 million USD by 2015 – double this year's figure – it must improve the quality of its product, according to industry experts.

Despite the fact that Vietnam is the sixth biggest tea exporter in the world, the country's exports typically sell for 40 percent lower than the global market price.

"It is because the tea sector has focused on quantity rather than quality," said Nguyen Thanh Do, deputy director of the Department of Processing and Trade for the Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Products and Salt Production sector.

He added that the problem lay with not only tea cultivation but also the processing and trading stages.

At the moment, about 65 percent of the country's tea cultivation area is under the control of small holders, which is inefficient, due in part to the fact that local farmers has failed to invest in new technology, Do said.

He also said tea enterprises and farmers should work more closely together to boost quality.

Phan Huy Binh, director of Trung Nguyen Export-Import Company, said that foreign buyers are put off by the poor quality of Vietnamese tea.

Meanwhile, Doan Anh Tuan, president of the Vietnam Tea Association, said standards are inconsistent and that Vietnamese producers need to better enhance their trademarks.

He also said 50 percent of the tea exported was unprocessed and sold in bulk. Just a small quantity of tea was exported in its finished form and packaged in a recognisable form, such as Oolong, Pho Nhi and Tan Cuong, he said.

As well as boosting quality and trademark recognition, he said more tea varieties need to be grown in Vietnam if the country wants to achieve its tea-export target.

The focus should be on developing traditional specialty tea varieties, Tuan said.

Industry experts said the expansion of tea-growing areas has to go hand in hand with the development of tea-processing factories.

Tuan, from the Vietnam Tea Association, said that in some communes there are a dozen of tea-processing factories, but not enough raw materials, "which is wasted investment."

Meanwhile, most of the tea-processing factories could only handle about 10 tonnes of tea leaves a day because they lacked up-to-date technology, he said.

In 2011, tea production increased 6.5 percent over the previous year to 888,600 tonnes, despite a decrease in the cultivation area by 2 percent to 130,000ha.

Currently, there are 450 tea-processing factories capable of handling more than a tonne of leaves a day in the country.

Vietnamese tea is exported to 110 countries and territories in the world. Last year's export turnover was worth about 200 million USD.-VNA