Kenya is set to step up talks for direct flights to Japan as Nairobi becomes the first Sub Saharan African city to host the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad) Summit later this month.
Kenya which exports mainly cut flowers, tea, coffee, edible nuts, fish fillets, tobacco and sisal fibres to Japan has maintained that such a direct flight would boost bilateral trade.
Government officials have said discussions over the direct flight are likely to take place on the sidelines of the event.
“The Ticad Summit focuses on Africa as a continent but we will have a bilateral session with [Japanese] Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,” a foreign affairs and international trade ministry official told the Business Daily by phone yesterday.
Kenyan flower exporters have said they are looking to the Nairobi’s Ticad summit to build more sale contacts and grow their share of Asian market as a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the European market.
Industry players say they have had no access problem in Japanese market where Kenya has grown to become the second largest source of flowers.
Most of Kenya’s flowers are however bought by the Japanese from Dutch auctions with direct sales accounting for just six per cent of Japan’s overall import.
“We hope to grow the market that has been built over the years,” said Kenya Flower Council CEO Jane Ngige. “A direct (Nairobi-Tokyo) flight may not be as urgent as is the case with US market but it is important as it will ensure that our flowers don’t have to pass through so many hands before it finally gets to the consumer. But either way, I can confirm that we don’t have access problem in Japanese market,” she said.
Market watchers say Japan has not been keen on pushing for the direct flight since it mainly sells bulky goods to Kenya. Official records show that Kenyans import mainly capital goods that are better shipped by sea. These include motor vehicles, spare parts, heavy machinery, construction equipment, electrical equipment, electronics and cement clinkers.
The Nairobi Ticad brings Mr Abe and his team to Nairobi between August 27 and 27 as the flower industry ponders potential impact of the recent vote by UK to exit the Europe.
Kenya is also grappling with uncertainty over future export of its flowers through the Dutch Auctions as its East African Community neighbours increasingly show unwillingness to sign the Economic Partnership Agreements with the European Union.
Japan has pumped Sh3.3 trillion ($32 billion) in overseas development loan to Africa, including Sh1.6 trillion put in the public-private ventures. Kenya has received Sh549 billion.