By Sharon Atieno

As China trade week opens up in Nairobi, Kenya, the trade imbalance between the two countries still remains evident.

According to statistics from International Trade Center (ITC)’s trademap, in 2018 Kenya imported goods from China worth USD 5,204,944, a rise from USD 3,777,573 in 2017.

On the other hand, in the same time period China imported goods worth USD 174,200 in 2018 and 166,200 in 2017.

Kenya became China’s trading partner in 2015, and over the years, trade between the two countries has risen to an estimated USD 3.7 billion by 2018.

Imports from China to Kenya occupy 33 percent of total world imports to Kenya while imports from Kenya to China occupy less than 1 percent of total world imports to China.

Zhao Xiyua (with a blue tie) at a photo shoot during the launch of china trade week in Kenya

Giving a keynote address during the launch of the 5th China trade week in Kenya, Zhao Xiyua, Embassy of China Minister Counselor noted that the trade imbalance between the two countries was determined by demand and supply.

“I am not denying the fact that Kenya has been importing more from China than it exports. However, we have to acknowledge that this trade imbalance is determined by supply and demand situation in the market and also by the two countries’ economic structures,” he said.

He also added that the Chinese government was making effort to ensure market access for Kenyan agricultural products.

In 2018, during the China International Import Exposition (CIIE) in China, Kenya and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) establishing a technical working group to commence negotiations on expansion of trade opportunities and review of tariff and non-tariff barriers.

In addition, several negotiations were concluded between Kenya and China, which included the signing of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) protocol that gives Kenya’s agricultural products entry to China’s market.

These products include: avocados, French beans, legumes:- peas, beans , green grams, flowers, vegetables and fruits, herbs, mangoes , peanuts, meat, hides and skins, herbs, Bixa, macadamia,  Gum Arabica, myrrh and Asian vegetables ( Chilli Karela) among other Kenyan products.

Networks that will enable access to the Chinese market are inclusive of 7 eleven, family Mart, star Bucks and Wu Mart. Kenya also agreed to partner with Greenchain China to promote exports of macadamia, tea, coffee, flowers, using online e-commerce platform famous in China.

However, Kenyan farmers who are meant to export their avocadoes to China, have lamented over the fact that the SPS measures are too stringent for them.

The SPS measures for avocadoes require farmers to install machines and coolers for peeling and freezing of the fruit before it exported. Moreover, China wants farmers to freeze the fruits to negative 30 degrees Celsius after peeling off the skin and chill further to negative 18 degrees while in transit.

Addressing this issue, Xiyua said that the General Administration of Customs of China is evaluating the impact of pests and diseases found during China’s exports through trade to Kenya for inspection in March this year.

“I hope that Kenya will coorporate with China in a bid to reach the sanitary and phytosanitary agreements for export of fresh avocado fruits and other agricultural products to China,” he added.

Kenya’s products with potential to China

In order to bridge the gap in trade between Kenya and China, there is need to look at Kenya’s export potential to the Chinese market and to hold negotiations from there.

ITC’s export potential map indicates that there is a huge export potential for Kenya to China. The greatest potential being in products such as black tea, grains of hides and skins of bovine or equine animals, as well as hides and skins of goats or kids in the wet state.

In the black tea sector, for example, where the actual export for packings that are more than three kilograms is at USD 2.3 million, there is room to realize an additional export worth USD 10.7 million.