KENYA – The Chinese government has rejected most of Kenya’s tea leaves over high fluoride content, erecting yet another road block on Kenya’s bid to grow its earnings from tea exports.

Officials at Kenya’s tea directorate say the rigorous checks introduced by Chinese regulators seeking to curb entry of high fluoride content tea into their market has significantly cut exports to the Asian nation.

“We have not yet understood why China has introduced this standard, which has never been a quality requirement in all other tea markets including our traditional ones,” said Ms Elizabeth Kimenyi, interim head at the Directorate. Most Kenyan tea is grown in Rift Valley, a region where soils tend to have high fluoride content.

“We are pursuing the matter with the relevant authorities so that we can sort out the issue soon since China provides a huge market for our tea,” Ms Kimenyi told the Senate committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries that visited the Mombasa tea auction on Tuesday.

China is regarded as a potential high-volumes market for Kenya’s tea. In 2009, Kenya exported 918,140 kilogrammes to the populous Asian market, rising over the years to 1,305,781 kgs by 2012.

These exports have since plunged to 922,828 kgs in 2013 and 935,600 kgs in 2014, following the introduction of the new standards, said Ms Kimenyi.

The Senate committee vice chairman Henry Ole Ndiema said it was surprising that a country like China, which exports more goods than it imports from Kenya, could slap such an “unnecessary” requirement on the country’s tea.

“Most of the lucrative infrastructure projects are being undertaken by Chinese companies and these “trade barriers” are not acceptable. We will take up the matter with them,” he said.

Tea is Kenya’s top foreign exchange earner, netting an average of Sh100 billion annually in the last three years. Its traditional markets for tea are Britain, Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan and Sudan but the Tea Directorate says there were efforts to diversify the markets not only to China but also such African countries as Ghana, Nigeria and Algeria.

The current restriction in China adds to the woes of an industry which has been hit by low global prices in the last two years.

The East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA) managing director Edward Mudibo told the committee that tea prices at the auction increased from Sh181 ($2.02) per kilo in the first week of January to Sh225 ($2.50) in March.

April 16, 2015;