Kenya’s imports from Tanzania at 3-year low on fresh trade fights

Maize cargo

Cargo trucks from Tanzania ferrying maize await offloading outside the Mombasa Maize Millers factory on September 13, 2020. Kenya receives a large amount of maize from Tanzania annually to boost its Maize stock.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

Kenya’s imports from Tanzania dipped to the lowest level in three years between January and March partly on renewed trade tensions between the two neighbours, bucking a trend of gains under truce deals by retired President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Tanzania counterpart Samia Suluhu.

The value of goods ordered from Tanzania dropped for the second quarter in a row to Sh7.89 billion in the first quarter of 2023, which is the lowest since the second quarter of 2020 when the imports were reduced to just Sh5.21 billion due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Tanzania is the third largest exporter of goods to Kenya in Africa only behind her East African Community (EAC) fellow Uganda and South Africa which is now the leading exporter of goods to the country on the continent.

Kenya’s imports from her southern neighbour, which had hit a historic Sh19.08 billion in the third quarter of 2021, have dropped for two consecutive quarters, reducing from Sh16.61 billion in the third quarter of last year to Sh9.91 billion in the subsequent quarter.

Kenya mainly imports cereals, wood, and edible vegetables from Tanzania and it exports pharmaceutical products, plastics, iron, and steel to the neighbouring state.

“Value of imports from Africa exhibited a decline of 6.8 percent in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same quarter of 2022. This was partly due to a decline in imports from Tanzania which dropped from Sh12 billion in the first quarter of 2022 to Sh8 billion in the first quarter of 2023,” said the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

At the same time, Kenya’s exports to Tanzania fell for the first time in three quarters and to the lowest level in a year, dropping to Sh14.1 billion during the quarter down from Sh15.4 billion in the same quarter last year.

The reduced trade between the two countries during the quarter comes at a time Tanzania has placed restrictions on exports of cereals to Kenya which has led to high prices locally.

In May, the Tanzanian government banned foreign traders from buying produce from farmers directly leading to an outcry from maize millers in Kenya. 

Tanzania mandated buyers of maize from outside the country to source produce through registered traders who bear a tax identification number, certificate of tax compliance, and an export license. 

The re-emergence of trade tiffs however, which have seen trucks loaded with maize from Tanzania barred from crossing into Kenya in recent months after the Tanzanian authorities stopped issuing maize exportation permits is threatening to once again soil trade relations between the two countries.

The country’s restrictions on cereal exports to Kenya and Uganda have however seen prices of maize dip in that country, prompting farmers to petition their Members of Parliament (MPs) to press the government to liberalise the trade.

The ascension of President Suluhu to power in Tanzania in March 2021 led to improved bilateral relations between the two countries.

In her first official visit abroad as Head of State, Ms Suluhu visited Nairobi where she was hosted by then President Uhuru Kenyatta as the countries resolved some 23 trade barriers.

A year after the visit by Ms Suluhu, trade between Kenya and Tanzania crossed the Sh100 billion mark for the first time, signaling improved ties between the two states.