TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

Kenyan farmers reap gloom from American market

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Source: Business Daily Africa

Sometime in 2004, some 'agents' promised Rift Valley farmers a fortune if they turned to 'more lucrative cash crops' which would be exported to America.

French beans dominated the list of the new cash crops.

To the small-scale pyrethrum farmers, the campaign came as a godsend. One of extraction plants belonging to the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya had just burnt down, leaving them with no alternative market.

They were promised Sh150,000 per acre of the French beans. This was so alluring for groups who would otherwise have to wait for up to five years to start earning Sh50,000 per acre of pyrethrum.

But the ‘good deal’ would be unravelled only after three months.

The produce was ready but the agents had apparently taken off, probably on realising the beans would not enter the US market as promised. By the time the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) completed the process of clearing the shelled beans to start trading early this year, most farmers had dropped the business altogether.

Such has been one of the most noticeable challenges of the America’s African Growth Opportunity Act (Agoa) — a duty- and quota-free platform granted to 40 African nations.

While most of the 6,500 product lines that Kenya is allowed to export to the US under the facility are agricultural, industry players complain that the USDA’s clearance procedure remains grindingly slow.

According an industry lobby, Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), USDA still clears fresh produce on a case-by-case basis, a claim that may be vindicated by the fact that only 20 items from Kenya are exported to the largest market almost a decade since the preferential trade instrument was launched by former President Bill Clinton.

For instance, according to the association’s CEO, Dr Stephen Mbithu, Kenya applied for a permit to start exporting a number of fruits and vegetables into the US several years ago but only shelled peas, baby corn and baby carrots were cleared a few months ago. Mangoes and avocados among others are still on the queue awaiting clearance.

American officials argue that quality and health concerns override their desire to increase trade volumes with the African countries under Agoa.

Mr George Aldridge, a US embassy official, says the US has moved to address the slow process of clearing agricultural goods to enter its market by seconding many plant and animal health specialists to work with local quality regulators.

“We have brought in some sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) specialists to work with Kephis [Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services] to speed up the quality certification process,” he said.

Regional trade adviser with USAID, Stephanie Wilcock, says the organisation has also recruited many technical experts to ensure compliance with the quality requirements of the American market right from the farm level.

The idea, she adds, is to ensure that once a product has been cleared, farmers will readily comply with the standards to avoid interrupting supply orders.

However, after years of distant advocacy and whining, the eighth Agoa summit to be held in Nairobi on august 4-6 brings Mr Tom Vilsack, the US agriculture secretary, to a roundtable discussion with government officials and farmers’ bodies like FPEAK.

The US Embassy in Nairobi has confirmed that Mr Vilsack, Secretary of State Mrs Hillary Clinton and another senior US trade representative Mr Ron Kirk will be among the American delegates at the Agoa forum.

Protectionist move

Apart from the many trade pacts that are lined up for signing between the American firms and budding local suppliers, the forum presents an opportunity for the continent’s policy makers to question some of the non-tariff barriers that have slowed down the pace of trade expansion between the local exporters and the US.

Top on the list, the continent policy shapers are expected to take Mr Vilsack to task over his Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) programme that has widely been interpreted in the continent as a protectionist move.

In March this year, USDA launched COOL, a traceability guideline that requires that selected products entering US should bear package labels specifying their country of origin, the same rules shelved by the Bush Administration over criticism that they were discriminatory.


View related news articles

The US and Kenya launch negotiations on a free trade agreement. Will they succeed?

The US and Kenya launch negotiations on a free trade agreement. Will they succeed?

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration and Kenyan government launched trade negotiations in early July. Depending on the outcome of the negotiations, which were held virtually, the trade agreement could be the most significant development in U.S-Africa trade relations since the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) passed Congress in 2000. Indeed,...

30 July, 2020
US, Kenya officially launch trade talks

US, Kenya officially launch trade talks

The United States and Kenya formally launched negotiations Wednesday on a bilateral trade deal, which the countries hope could be replicated across Africa. “Under President [Donald] Trump’s leadership, we look forward to negotiating and concluding a comprehensive, high-standard agreement with Kenya that can serve as a model for additional agreements across Africa,”...

09 July, 2020
Joint statement between the United States and Kenya on the launch of negotiations towards a FTA [incl. video]

Joint statement between the United States and Kenya on the launch of negotiations towards a FTA [incl. video]

Today, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Kenya Cabinet Secretary for Industrialization, Trade, and Enterprise Development Betty Maina formally launched trade agreement negotiations between the United States and the Republic of Kenya. “Kenya is a recognized leader across the continent, an important strategic partner of the United States, and there is...

08 July, 2020
Kenya ‘raring to go’ on free trade deal with US, Uhuru says

Kenya ‘raring to go’ on free trade deal with US, Uhuru says

Kenya’s negotiations with the US on an unprecedented two-way trade deal are on schedule to begin on July 7 despite difficulties posed by the coronavirus pandemic, President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Friday. “Our team is raring to go,” he assured an online forum sponsored by the Washington-based Corporate Council on Africa. Kenya is aiming to create “sustainable jobs...

30 June, 2020
Kenya: Plans to lift suspension on mitumba imports ban underway

Kenya: Plans to lift suspension on mitumba imports ban underway

The government is at an advanced plan of lifting the suspension on importation of second hand clothes.  Trade Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina says her ministry and that of Health are drafting safety guidelines to guide the handling and selling of second clothes before the ban is lifted.  This comes after mitumba traders said they were running out of stock following...

24 June, 2020
Details of US-Kenya FTA negotiating principles

Details of US-Kenya FTA negotiating principles

On March 17, 2020, the Trump Administration notified Congress that the President intends to negotiate a trade agreement with the Republic of Kenya, in accordance with section 105(a)(1)(A) of the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (the Trade Priorities and Accountability Act). This notification was made following a February 6,...

28 May, 2020