George Kebaso @Morarak
Top officials in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) are fast-tracking a three-year programme to address some of the long standing trade disputes in the region arising from unresolved non-tariff barriers (NTBs).
The officials meeting in Nairobi this week are expected to iron out issues in five outstanding NTBs believed to have slowed down customs and trade facilitation, key in the development of intra-Comesa trade integration.
Most prevalent NTBs identified over the years in the Comesa region include, customs and administrative entry procedures (89), transport, clearing and forwarding (32) and specific limitations (27). Out of these, Kenya trade officials are concerned about two that have affected her trade with Zambia.
However, Comesa Director of Trade and Customs, Francis Mang’eni indicated that among the issues being discussed, the issue of milk products and palm oil from Kenya to Zambia looks to have an important space in the meeting that kicked off yesterday.
He said 204 NTBs have been reported among the Comesa member states and 182 of them have been resolved with a success rate of 89.2 per cent with only five NTBs outstanding of which two are important for Kenya. The two are importation ban on milk products and palm oil by Zambia.
“NTBs hinder intra-regional trade by increasing the cost of doing business, adds to the costs of goods and services thereby hindering market access and affecting export competitiveness,” he said.
He said that Zambia rejected Kenya’s milk, saying it has a high level of bacteria that is beyond the country’s required standards, which allows total bacteria count (TBC) of 200,000 while Kenya follows the international benchmark of one million TBC. The country’s consumers of palm oil also do not trust its products from Kenya, arguing that its ingredients are questionable.
“We have been engaging the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Zambian government to discuss and look at ways to unlock barriers that restrict Kenya from exporting milk and milk products to Zambia due to a conflict over standards,” Mang’eni added.
He said in the ongoing deliberations, officials are keen to adopt trade facilitation programmes through the three-year work programme covering 2018 to 2020. “The dispute arising from this ban could soon be a thing of the past with the meeting expected to consider the status of implementation on the Customs and Trade facilitation work programme,” he said.
Two sub-committees have been set up to deliberate on customs and trade facilitation in readiness for consideration by the Comesa Trade and Customs Committee before they are adopted by the bloc’s policy organs.
Trade Principal Secretary, Chris Kiptoo said the focus of the three-year programme include simplifying and harmonising customs procedures, enhancing automated and digitised customs systems, improving customs cooperation and trade facilitation.