Kenya has initiated talks with the European Union and the United Kingdom on a post-Brexit trade agreement as the country moves to safeguard its horticultural produce market.
Trade PS Johnson Weru said the talks with the UK were at a preliminary stage, pointing out that Kenya was keen to engage the two parties as an East African Community (EAC) bloc.
Fears have emerged that Kenya’s produce could be negatively impacted if Britain would not have reached a trade deal with the EU by the end of the transition period in December.
“We are engaging on the issue through EAC secretariat,” Mr Weru told the Business Daily.
Horticulture stakeholders and the Trade PS met last week to discuss how to approach the issue, which might see some changes in the phytosanitary requirements.
Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya chief executive Ojepat Okisegere said Kenya should have a clear agreement with the UK and EU ahead of December 31 when Britain finally quits the European business bloc.
“What we now want is an assurance that our produce will get to either Europe or UK without restrictions once the two parties end their partnership,” he said.
Once the UK and EU part ways, agricultural goods to either of the destinations would require a plant passport to access the market. Britain has legally left the EU but it’s currently on a transition period that lapses at the end of this year.
Most of Kenya’s farm produce access other parts of Europe through the Netherlands and exporters are worried that without proper consultation and agreement in place, horticulture produce might have a difficult time accessing either of the markets.
Kenya uses the EU standards on phytosanitary requirements. However, it is not clear if the UK will apply them once it leaves the trading bloc.
“In case the UK opts to use different standards, then it means that our produce will have to undergo double checks before it gets to the market in Britain, a move that will add on the cost of the products, making it uncompetitive when it gets to the market,” he said.
The players in the sector want the deal reached by the last quarter of this year before the Brexit takes effect.
Kenya and the EU have a special arrangement that has seen fresh produce get to the continent duty-free under the Economic Partnership Agreement.
Exporters are worried because it is not clear whether the deal will stand after Brexit.
Kenya received an extension based on this arrangement after Uganda and Tanzania refused to endorse the extension of the deal that was coming to an end two years ago.
For EPAs to be effected, all the five members of the East African Community need to sign the agreement as a bloc.