Monday, September 22, 2008

State to harmonise new import rules with Comesa policy

By Joseph Bonyo, 20 September 2008

Government officials are reviewing the new sugar import licensing rules drafted by Agriculture ministry to ensure conformity with Comesa regulations.

Ministry of Trade chaired the sessions that took place for the better the part of last week, and set continue this week. Representatives from the ministries of Agriculture and Finance are also participating.

“What we are doing is looking at whether these regulations contravene those of Comesa. If they do, then we will get a way forward in conforming with them,” said Mr Richard Sindiga, the head the Comesa desk at the ministry of Trade. Kenya is the current chair of the Comesa Council of Ministers.

Streamline sector

Two weeks ago, Agriculture minister William Ruto gazetted the new regulations which, he noted, would streamline the sugar sector.

The gazettement followed a three-month ban on sugar imports to the country. The minister had also cancelled export licences.

“The policy formulation and implementation lies with the ministry of Agriculture. However, in doing this, they are supposed to be in consultation with the us (Ministry of Trade),” said Mr Sindiga.

But there are fears that the new regulations will create delays in the importation process and increased cost of business. This, they say, may affect the relations between Kenya and Comesa.

“We are all of the opinion that our relations with Comesa should remain cordial as it has been,” Mr Sindiga said.

In a move seen as a counter to Mr Ruto’s regulations, the ministry of Trade gazetted the establishment of the Sugar Safeguard Committee. The committee’s mandate is to generally ensure that Comesa importation policies are implemented in totality.

“The committee is to ensure that the Comesa tariffs are adhered to so as to protect the safeguards we are enjoying. We are holding our first meeting next week to draw our plan of action,” said Mr Sindiga, who will chair the committee.

Already, the Kenya Sugar Board - the industry regulator - has invited traders willing to import under the Comesa tariffs to apply.

In an advertisement appearing in local dailies, KSB gave the interested parties up to the beginning of October to submit their applications.

“Anybody satisfying the criteria put in place can apply for the importation licence,” Mr Sindiga added.

Kenya imports duty-free sugar from the Comesa member states under the quantitative restriction regime.

Last February, the government successfully negotiated for an extension of the safeguards to 2012 to allow industry reforms.

This was to enable local millers time to reorganise and compete effectively once the extension expires.