THE producer of Yorkshire’s famous tea brand has called in overseas trade specialists in a bid to resolve an export dispute with South Korean officials.

Taylors of Harrogate, which blends Yorkshire Tea, is working with export professionals from Chamber International to resolve an issue with customs officials from South Korea over “country of origin” labelling on tea.

The dispute arose two years ago over the definition of the “substantive change” in a tea product which is used to determine its country of origin.

Taylors of Harrogate, acting on advice from HM Customs and Bradford-based international trade advisors Chamber International, argues the added value of blending and tasting different teas to create a consistent brand flavour constitutes the “substantive change” to warrant the country of origin to be within the EU under the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with South Korea.

However, South Korea customs officials argue the only “substantive change” occurs when the freshly picked green tea is turned into black tea.

As a result the South Koreans say their retail labelling regulations demand that the country of origin where the tea leaf is grown, such as Rwanda or Kenya, is displayed rather than where it was blended.

Madeline Wolfe, Taylors of Harrogate’s export sales administrator, said: “This makes a big difference for our customer supplying South Korea.

“If they are able to claim EU origin, as we have previously done for many countries for years without any difficulties, they pay lower import tariffs.

“However, the South Korean customs ruling means that they are breaching domestic labelling regulations and risk a substantial fine. If they obey the domestic regulations, they do not benefit from the lower tariffs afforded, which is what our customer has been doing.

“This means that our customer cannot buy as much of our blended teas as they might like to and the end price makes our product uncompetitive for consumers who want to enjoy blended teas from Yorkshire, which also include our Earl Grey and English Breakfast brands.”

Chamber International senior export advisor Mike Strawson said: “While South Korea is not a major international market for Taylors of Harrogate, it is one which is increasing for EU black tea exports generally.

“This is a very important issue at a time when UK companies are being encouraged to step up exports to help rebalance the national economy. In our view, this is a clear case of protectionism on the part of the South Korean authorities. It could be the thin end of the wedge and, if not resolved, this dispute could affect all blended teas exported from within the EU.

“We are making representations to a number of international trade bodies and working with Geneva-based specialist trade lawyers to try and resolve the matter.”