Trade war brews as Kenya blocks Tanzanian rice

Kenya has stopped the importation of rice from fellow East African Community (EAC) member Tanzania. This was made public by  Tanzania’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Prof Adolf Mkenda, who claimed that Kenya blamed poor quality and packaging for the ban.

“We are seeking an explanation [on the ban],” local news platform The Citizen quoted Mkenda to have said. “We are sure that these are negotiable issues and it is our best belief that they are resolvable.”

The alleged ban might be a reaction to Tanzania’s decision to ban importation of confectioneries from  Kenya. The country had claimed that it effected the ban because some companies were using raw materials sourced from non-EAC countries. The EAC Partner States signed a Common Market Protocol in 2009, which allows free movement of goods, persons, services, labour and capital while guaranteeing rights to residence and establishment within the member states. The neighbours eventually agreed that confectioneries from Kenya would only be imported duty-free in Tanzania if the raw materials are sourced from EAC member states.

Mkenda said in August that the two countries were working to resolve their differences and urged the media to stop sensationalism.

“It is normal for countries to have disputes in their trade relations,” he said, adding “Most importantly, we should all make sure that we respect agreements that we entered during the regional integration protocols.”

Kenya’s rice imports have been increasing since the 1980’s, as the country struggles to keep up with rising demand. Rice is the third most important food crop in Kenya after maize and wheat. Local production can barely cope with the increasing demand and importation has been inevitable. Although imports are mainly from Pakistan, Vietnam, Thailand, and India, but imports from Tanzania have been growing in recent times. However, issues of toxic rice has been a cause for concern in Kenya.

Officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) last month impounded one million bags of the poisonous rice in a warehouse in Mombasa. The DCI Director George Kinoti, said the rice was originally from Pakistan and had expired three years ago, but somehow it found its way to Kenya.

The matter of the expired rice was raised by the chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Livestock Committee Njeru Ndwiga, who stressed that it was wrong to import rice when farmers in the major irrigation schemes of the country had registered a good harvest. The committee, therefore, asked to know the quantity of rice produced in Kenya per year, the deficit and how it is managed.

Kenya has also had to tackle ‘fake’ sugar in recent months. The country does not produce enough for local consumption as it is very expensive to produce locally. Manufacturers also have inefficiencies at processing and marketing levels to grapple with. Mumias Sugar,  the largest sugar manufacturer in Kenya, has been shut down for months due to shortage of raw materials and crippling debt. As a result, contraband sugar has flooded Kenya and, as a lawmaker claims, is being secretly repackaged in Mumias Sugar bags for sale.