How to export and ship tea from Malaysia

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The rolling hills of Malaysia's Cameron Highlands, often referred to as Malaysia's "Green Bowl," offer more than just breathtaking scenery. Here, nestled amid lush landscapes, Malaysia's tea industry thrives. 

According to Statista, the industry’s 2023 revenue amounted to a substantial US$0.7 billion, and it’s poised for future growth with a projected Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4.5% between 2023 and 2028. From the heart of these verdant plantations, Malaysian tea brands have earned a reputation for their unique flavour and quality, making them a sought-after export worldwide.

In this blog, we'll explore how companies can export and ship tea from Malaysia, tap into global demand, navigate customs rules, and unlock the potential of the Asia-Pacific market.

 Malaysia’s Tea Industry: Then and Now

The story of Malaysia's tea industry is steeped in history, dating back to the colonial era when British colonists identified the Cameron Highlands region as an ideal location for tea cultivation. The cool, misty climate and fertile soil located over 1,500 metres above sea level – unlike the hot and humid climate typical of the rest of the country – was found to be particularly conducive to the growth of tea plants.

In 1929, the first tea plantations were established in the Cameron Highlands, marking the beginning of large-scale tea production in the region and setting the stage for further expansion.

Decades later, the establishment of the Malaysia Tea Association (MyTA, then known as the Tea Merchants’ Association, Federation of Malaya) in 1956 played a pivotal role in regulating and promoting the tea industry locally and overseas. This non-governmental body has been instrumental in maintaining quality standards, supporting research and development, facilitating exports, and building cultural touch points through Malaysian tea.

A little less than a century since the first plantations were opened, Malaysia's tea industry has grown by leaps and bounds to develop its own unique characteristics and success. 

Cameron Highlands remains the epicentre of Malaysian black tea cultivation, a variety celebrated for its rich, aromatic flavours. Brands have also expanded their range to include various tea types, such as green tea and herbal infusions, to cater to a diverse and quickly evolving range of consumer preferences. Though still relatively niche compared to industry juggernauts like China or India, Malaysia’s unique terroir infuses each tea leaf with distinctive notes that set it apart in the global tea market. 

Meeting Global Tea Demand

According to Statista, global consumption of tea in 2022 amounted to an estimated 6.7 billion kilograms, and this number is expected to reach 7.4 billion kilograms by 2025. 

Countries such as China, India, Turkey, and the United Kingdom have shown a growing appetite for premium tea products, making them ideal target markets for Malaysian tea brands hoping to expand their reach overseas. This growing demand is largely due to deep-rooted tea cultures and traditions, with the beverage playing a pivotal role in everyday life and each nation’s wider cultural milieu.

Another growing market for global tea exports is the United States, which has seen a surge in tea consumption in recent years. This is in part due to the rise in popularity of beverages such as milk tea or ‘bubble’ tea, both of which primarily utilise black tea.

In total, these top tea-consuming nations signify a colossal market for Malaysian tea exports, especially for Malaysian black tea. As global tea consumption continues its upward trajectory, the potential export values when sending premium Malaysian teas to these countries are indeed a tempting prospect for the industry's growth and prosperity.

Export Essentials for Shipping Tea

1. Necessary export licences and permits

To export tea from Malaysia, you'll need to obtain the necessary export licences and permits from Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), which may vary based on the intended destination country and the type of tea you're exporting. It's essential to check MITI’s requirements for your specific export destination and comply with them to ensure a smooth export process.

2. Required documents for customs clearance

Exporting tea involves a range of essential shipping documents, including invoices, packing lists, certificates of origin, and phytosanitary certificates. Many countries have stringent phytosanitary requirements to prevent the introduction of pests and diseases through agricultural products like tea. This may involve additional treatments, inspections, or certifications to verify that the tea is free from pests and diseases, which will impact your overall operational timeline and resource allocation.

Ensuring you have accurate and complete documentation is vital to avoid delays and ensure your tea reaches its destination smoothly.

3. Adherence to customs rules and regulations

Understanding the customs rules and regulations of both Malaysia and the importing country is crucial. Customs rules can vary significantly between countries and may include HS codes, import duties, taxes, and restrictions on certain types of tea. Being well-versed in these shipping regulations will help you navigate complex procedures and compliance efficiently so that your international tea shipments arrive at their destination in a timely manner.

4. Proper packaging for freshness

Proper packaging and cold chain logistics are essential to maintain the freshness and quality of tea exports during transit. This includes using airtight, moisture-resistant, and even temperature-controlled packaging to protect it from exposure to air, light, and moisture while preserving flavour and aroma. Whether your product is shipped as tea bags or loose-leaf tea should also be considered when adjusting for environmental exposure. Additionally, packaging should comply with international food safety standards to ensure the tea’s safety for consumption.

5. Consideration of other import restrictions

Some countries may have import restrictions on certain types of tea or may require specific labelling and packaging for health and safety reasons. This could include providing accurate information on shipping labels, such as the tea’s type, origin, and any certifications like organic or fair trade. 

It's crucial to be aware of these restrictions and comply with them to avoid issues during customs clearance. Adhering to international labelling and quality standards can also enhance the marketability of your tea in the destination country, showcasing its profile as a niche Malaysian variant.

Breaking into Asia-Pacific Tea Markets

Given the competitive nature of the global tea industry, expanding your business into the Asia-Pacific region requires a strategic approach. Some ways your company can navigate this diverse and promising market include:

  • Leveraging free trade agreements (FTAs): Take advantage of tariff concessions in FTAs that Malaysia has established with several countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including major tea consumers like China and India.

  • Choose the right sales channels: E-commerce platforms can be a great option for those seeking to expand overseas while minimising costly overheads.

  • Understand market dynamics: Conduct thorough market research to understand consumer tastes, packaging requirements, and labelling standards. Each market has its unique preferences and regulations, and your product offerings and marketing strategies should be localised accordingly.

In the competitive world of tea exports, Malaysia’s unique flavours have a special place. With the international demand for tea projected to rise, Malaysian tea businesses have more opportunities than ever to make their mark on the global stage.

However, the process of international tea shipping can be complex due to the varying customs requirements and regulations of each country. From how to prepare a commercial invoice for global shipments to ways you can reduce wastage in your supply chain, companies have a lot of key considerations to keep in mind on top of figuring out how to grow their business overseas.

One way to streamline this process is by partnering with reliable logistics providers who understand the complexities of international shipping and customs clearance. In doing so, businesses gain access to customs expertise and extensive global networks to help optimise every step of the process from invoice creation to last-mile delivery.