America raises quality check concerns for Kenyan imports


US Trade Ambassador Katherine Tai speaks during a joint press conference in 2022. FILE PHOTO | AFP

US traders have raised concerns over Kenya’s quality and safety checks on imported products, claiming the certification falls short of global best practices, and is not entirely above board.

The Office of United States Trade Representative (USTR) Washington says in a review that the requirements Kenya applies in inspecting and certifying imports into the country “deviate from international standards”, suggesting that the process presents a technical trade barrier.

The Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) requires mandatory checks of most goods at the country of origin under the Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVoC) programme.

Inspections are conducted by Kebs agents in source markets to ensure the goods comply with Kenya’s standards and regulations before they are exported. The PVoC rules, however, exempt some goods imports such as raw materials, machines, and spare parts shipped in by registered manufacturers, products with diamond marks of quality certified by Kebs, and goods approved by the Cabinet Secretary for Trade. The goods exempted from PVoC are inspected by Kebs at the port of entry.

The prevailing rules enforced through Standards (Verification of Conformity to Standards and Other Applicable Regulations of Imports) Regulations of 2019 require importers to obtain a Certificate of Conformity (CoC) from Kebs PVoC inspection agent in the country of origin.

“Kenya asserts that the (PVoC) programme is necessary to address health, environmental, and security concerns, but US industry has raised concerns that the programme’s testing, certification, and labelling requirements deviate from international standards without providing an additional measure of safety,” US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a report.

Importers whose goods were not inspected at the source are subjected to checks by Kebs officers at the port of entry for a fee equivalent to five percent of the customs value.

Kebs refuses entry for goods that fall short of Kenya’s standards.

Importers whose goods have been approved by either Kebs agents at the country of origin or by officers at the port of entry are required to buy standardisation marks for each product.

The US authorities, citing feedback from its companies, have alleged the process of obtaining standardisation labels is opaque.

“After obtaining a CoC or undergoing inspection at the port of entry, the importer must also purchase from Kebs an Import Standardisation Mark label that must be affixed to each imported article or its retail packaging,” Ms Tai states in the report. “Many of Kebs mandatory standards are not publicly available, which hinders transparency.”

The shift to the PVOC programme came amid concerns that high volumes of uninspected goods at the port were fueling customs tax evasion and allowing easy flow of counterfeits into the country.

Unlike the PVOC arrangement where goods type and quality description are available in the manifest by the time cargo arrives at the port, quality inspectors have to start their work from scratch in the case of uninspected goods.

The PVoC rules have gradually been applied to the growing list of goods since September 2005, with most goods covered under rules last refreshed in 2019.

Six firms are currently contracted by Kebs to undertake inspection of general goods for a three-year deal ending June 2025.

They are China Certification & Inspection Group Company, China Hansom Inspection & Certification Company, Geneva-headquartered Société Générale de Surveillance SA, Bureau Veritas Kenya, Shenzhen-based World Standardisation Certification &Testing Group and TUV Austria (Turk) Kenya.

Kebs has in the past suspended China Certification and Inspections Group Company and Société Générale de Surveillance SA of Switzerland on allegations of approving import of sub-standard goods.

Kenya requires most imports to be inspected at the country of origin by approved agents partly to ease congestion at the Port of Mombasa.

This is in addition to safeguarding the country against dumping of substandard goods, ensuring health and safety and environmental protection for consumers as well as preventing deceptive trade practices.

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