Cross-border maize trade held up again amid fresh problems

Friday May 28 2021
Maize pic

Traders ponder their next move after lorries carrying maize from Tanzania were held up at the Namanga border post in March following Kenya’s decision to ban imports of the cereal from Tanzania and Uganda. PHOTO | FILE

By Zephania Ubwani
By Alex Nelson Malanga

Arusha/Dar. Maize exports to Kenya have run into problems again, this time being the shortage of aflatoxin testing kits.

This comes at a time when East African Community (EAC) ministers are meeting in Arusha to deliberate on a number of trade issues, including the bloc’s negotiations with Europe.

The maize problem is more pronounced at the Holili-Taveta border post where dozens of lorries from Tanzania are held up.

In Namanga, the busiest post on the Tanzania-Kenya border, the flow of maize was not as much as anticipated, mainly due to falling demand in Kenya.

Reports from Holili said there were at least 50 lorries with maize stranded on both sides of the border as of Wednesday.

Vehicles kept on queueing as they awaited clearance from the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs).

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Kenya has been insisting that all maize imports from Tanzania be subjected to tests to ensure it was free from the toxic fungus.

However, shortage of aflatoxin testing kits from its regulatory authorities has led to the pile-up of lorries laden with maize.

Tanzania Revenue Authorities (TRA) officials at Holili could not be reached to comment on the problem which is blamed for causing traders huge losses.

Kenyan maize importers have complained they were paying up to Ksh4,500 (about Sh90,000) per day for parking of each lorry.

Despite the lifting of the ban on maize imports from Tanzania,Kenya has insisted that cereal from Tanzania must be free of aflatoxins.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan and her Kenyan counterpart, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, recently ordered the resumption of maize trade between the two countries.

The ban on maize imports from Tanzania and Uganda followed allegations that they had high levels of cancer-causing fungus.

At Namanga, the movement of lorries with maize remained uninterrupted since the directive.

However, the Arusha-based traders contacted admitted that volumes were still low compared to three months ago.

“The situation is not bad. Lorries from Tanzania are still allowed, but the maize has to be tested for the fungus”, said Mr Xavery Temba.

Mr Julius Mollel, another trader at Mbauda maize market, said demand for maize had gone down due to a reported surplus of the commodity.

Meanwhile, Tanzania’s position on the African Free Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will be on spotlight during a meeting at the EAC headquarters.

Tanzania has yet to ratify the AfCFTA pact which aims to create a multi-trillion dollar trade area for the continent of over one billion people.

The country has also been consistently opposed to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EAC and the European Union (EU).

“Our position with regard to the Africa free trade area pact will be revealed after the meeting,” Trade and Industry minister Kitila Mkumbo said yesterday.

He said Tanzania had submitted its recommendations on how to blend its new role in the AfCFTA with its commitment to EAC goals.

The country was one of the signatories to the pact that initiated the continental free trade area in Kigali, Rwanda in 2018.

However, it has not yet ratified the pact like some of its partners in the six nation East African bloc.

Prof Mkumbo affirmed, however, that the government may finally ratify the pact between June and October this year.

He admitted that the delay has led to a mixed reactions from the private sector, especially on whether it is beneficial or not to join AfCFTA.

The ministry’s communications director Emmanuel Buhohela said before ratification, the document would have to be endorsed by Parliament.

Prof Mkumbo also allayed fears that the country’s manufacturing sector would suffer should the country join the AfCFTA.

Another equally critical matter on the EAC ministerial agenda is the position of the bloc following the last summit allowing Kenya to go it alone in EPA negotiations.

During the February 27 summit, hosted by Tanzania, the regional leaders agreed to allow some partner states “to move forward” with the negotiations.

The decision was made after it was realised that not all the six partner states were in a position to sign, ratify and implement the agreement with the EU.

It then allowed Kenya, which spearheaded efforts to reach an agreement with EU to go it alone.

The summit concluded that the partner states who wish to do so should directly commence engagements with the EU. Implementation of the EU-EAC-EPA, the summit agreed, should be implemented under the Principal Variable Geometry.

The decision of the summit, first mooted in 2018, means each member state will decide when and how to enter a trade pact with the EU.

Today’s ministerial meeting will also discuss the format of hybrid/online meetings hosted or organized by the EAC in the wake of Covid-19 restrictions.