Thousands of Kenyan processed goods valued at Sh30 billion could be blocked from Tanzania, which is demanding the Diamond Mark of Quality in favour of the standardisation symbol that most exporters use.
Only 200 of the nearly 10,000 products that Kenyan manufacturers sell across the southern border bear the diamond mark, which Tanzania says will be required of goods from Kenya starting in March.
The Tanzania Bureau of Standards said the standardisation mark does not capture enough quality benchmarks.
“The Tanzanian officials are rooting for the diamond mark, which is more vigorous as it captures more quality measurements as opposed to the standardisation mark,” said the director of economic affairs at the ministry of East African Community, Mr Richard Sindiga.
That leaves more than 9,000 items at the risk of being banned from Kenya’s largest regional market as Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Tanzania Bureau of Standards haggle over the accepted quality emblem for exports between the two countries.
Kenya’s exports to Tanzania include cement, maize and wheat flour, margarine, cooking oil, detergents, sugar, cement and others.
Key exporters into the country such as Bidco, Unilever, Unga, Mumias Sugar, East African Portland Cement among others have products that do not have the diamond mark.
Officials at the Kenya Bureau of Standards however disagreed with the demands from Tanzania, saying the standardisation mark was more widely recognised across the region.
“The diamond mark of quality is a very high benchmark and the rest of the region cannot match it. The standardisation mark is what we have been using and remains in use,” said the Kebs director for quality assurance and inspection, Mr John Abongo.
He added that the diamond mark was only being used locally, adding that they had written to the Tanzania on the matter.
The Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) said the mark would add to the expense of most small and medium enterprises, making it difficult for their products to move in the Tanzania market.
“This will make a number of our manufactured goods unable to compete in the Tanzanian market,” said the chairman Patrick Obath.
Goods manufactured in Kenya are charged Sh55,000 each per year for the diamond mark while imported ones pay Sh200,000 to Kebs.
In contrast, the standardisation mark costs Sh20,000 per product per year.
The East African Community has proposed uniform standardisation marks in the region but Mr Sindiga said differences over what benchmark to employ had slowed down progress with no country willing to compromise.
East African Portland Cement said its exports to Tanzania, which reached Sh43 million last year, could be affected if the notice came into effect.
“We are still in the process of deciding which quality mark we shall be having on our products and how it will affect our sales across the region,” said export manager Abraham Kiprotich.
The head of export sales at Bamburi Cement, Mr Samuel Odera, said their exports had in October last year been barred from the Tanzanian market, owing to lack of the diamond quality mark until Kebs intervened. He said they had since complied with the Tanzanian demands.
“Our products were denied entry to Tanzania last year in October over the same issue, but this year our goods now have the diamond mark,” said Mr Odera.
Exports to Tanzanian have grown by 58 per cent in the last five years, reaching Sh30 billion last year, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
In 2009, Kenya sold goods worth Sh90 billion to its four East Africa Community partners, with Tanzania coming second to Uganda in importance as an export destination.
The other EAC partners are Rwanda and Burundi.
In the 19 member Comesa trade bloc Kenya exported goods worth Sh112 billion in 2009.
Mr Odera said the government should resolve the dispute before the deadline, saying it would hold up Kenyan products unnecessarily at points of entry to Tanzania.
“We hope that Kebs will intervene before it is too late,” said Mr Odera.
A number of commodities including sugar, margarine and maize flour were in October last year blocked from crossing the Namanga border due to the varying quality emblems but the dispute was soon resolved.
“This is just but one of the non-tariff barriers that have been holding back the common market and it’s not necessarily a genuine concern for quality and safety of Tanzanians,” said an official at the ministry of East African Community who spoke on condition of anonymity, for fear of upsetting the diplomatic code.
Officials at the East African community said the discussions to develop uniform quality standards in the region had not been concluded.
“This has also been delayed by the lack of well developed standards and institutions in Rwanda and Burundi,” said the deputy director for economic affairs at the ministry of East African Community, Mr Mark Ogot.
Kenya’s exports to Tanzania grew by 14 per cent to Sh22.9 billion in the nine months to September 2010.
Tanzania’s exports grew two times, going by Kenya Revenue Authority figures, which showed customs collections rising from Sh80 million in September 2009 to Sh150 million as of September last year.