KENYA – The regional trade bloc, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has approved an extension safeguarding Kenyan sugar industry from cheap imports from the region for two more years.

According to Business Daily, the July 14 nod, granted by the bloc’s Council of Ministers in a meeting in Lusaka, Zambia protects Kenya from uncontrolled imports from the COMESA bloc.

The extension which spans to February 2021 is a reprieve for the country which is facing a sugar crisis, including the fall of local sugar millers as a result of imported cheap sugar in the market.

To another extend, the focus shifts from a ‘COMESA verdict’ to whether stalled reforms in the sector have any chance to be implemented to improve the standards of farmers who have been left to poverty.

It was only recently that Kenya wrote to the common market seeking protection from imported cheap sugar from the region.

Kenya is on record submitting several requests for the period of ‘protectionism’ to be extended, that is in 2016 and the previous date of 2019.

In its last week report, Business Daily mentioned that Kenya had violated COMESA rules by the recent importation of sugar outside the bloc without seeking approval from the body.

“It has been a tough battle to get this two-year extension,” said Foreign Affairs chief administrative secretary Ababu Namwamba.

Stalled sugar reforms

One may say that Kenya is doing very little to work on set reforms meant to improve the sugar industry.

Last week’s move to seek COMESA’s hand in extending the February 2019 deadline was not an option because the country had not met the conditions issued by the trade regulator, according to Trade Principal Secretary Chris Kiptoo.

Though Kenya argued it had met all the conditions imposed after the previous extension, a proposal to privatize five publicly owned sugar millers is yet to be implemented due to opposition from both farmers and legislators.

While there is an agreement to sale Miwani sugar factory, opposition stalls privatization of Nzoia, Sony and Chemelil sugar factories.

The introduction of a sucrose-content-based cane payment system is also yet to happen with cane poaching among millers being a narrative of the day.

Challenges include underutilization of mill capacity, embezzlement of funds, and according to a World Bank report, protection measures from COMESA have contributed to Kenya being a high-cost sugar producer compared to Malawi, others.