Uganda threat to retaliate over trade ‘ignores’ quality question

Malaba border immigration office

Uganda’s threats to ban Kenya’s poultry, meat and other agricultural products in retaliation for Nairobi’s restrictions on Kampala’s goods may please local lobbies, but officials say it ignores the quality question.

Photo credit: File | AFP

Uganda’s threats to ban Kenya’s poultry, meat and other agricultural products in retaliation for Nairobi’s restrictions on Kampala’s goods may please local lobbies, but officials say it ignores the quality question.

Two days after Uganda said it was compiling a list of Kenyan products to ban, government officials told the Nation that Nairobi’s biggest demand is better quality.

A diplomat who was in a previous trade delegation to Uganda said regulators had discovered that substandard goods or imported, repackaged goods falsely labelled as Ugandan were sent to Kenya.

“Kenya respects the free market protocols under the EAC, but there are standards which Ugandan producers must meet,” the official said on background so as not to appear to be contradicting the official government position.

The official did not specify the standards but singled out milk, eggs and sugar as some of the products previously found wanting.

Publish list

The revelations came two days after Uganda’s minister for East African affairs, Rebecca Kadaga, said Kampala would publish a list of goods that will not be accepted from Kenya, as retaliation for Kenya’s stance.

That list could include poultry products, meat and other processed agricultural produce, in what Ugandan lobbies cheered as the best way to exact revenge.

Mr Daniel Birungi, the Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA) executive director, argued that the ban could force both sides to negotiate and eliminate what he thought was a non-tariff barrier to trade.

“We welcome the gesture because we believe it could drive our neighbour onto a negotiating table,” he told the Daily Monitor on Wednesday.

“We believe Uganda should not be the one that always rolls over when neighbours wrong us. Uganda should show it is capable of playing this card when pushed hard (against) the wall.”

Ms Kadaga’s charged press conference came against the backdrop of lobbying from UMA and other groups representing farmers. They blamed Kenya for refusing day-old chicks from Uganda, chickens, eggs, milk, maize meal, sugar and even fruits in spite of existing protocols allowing local produce to be traded freely.

Protect local farmers

When Kenya banned those products in January this year, officials cited temporary protection of local farmers to allow them to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. They also cited standards as the critical element any imports will have to meet.

Yet, officially, Kenya said it had received no formal protest from Kampala seeking to lift the restrictions.

Trade Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina said her ministry had only learned about Uganda’s plans through media reports and was waiting to hear from Kampala through official channels.

She told the Nation there had not been any engagements with Uganda on the persistent trade disputes since April, when she led a delegation to Kampala for talks on non-tariff barriers affecting trade between the two countries.

“The only reports we are seeing are through the media. We have not received any official communication from the embassy,” Ms Maina said.

She said Kenyan officials would respond once they receive official communication from the Ugandan Embassy, ruling out any efforts to reach out to the Yoweri Museveni administration before it first addresses Kenya officially.

Run out of patience

Ms Kadaga said Uganda had run out of patience and said retaliation would force Naiobi’s hand on the matter.

“This has gone on for too long and within a short time they too will understand what we are going through,” Ms Kadaga said in Kampala.

Uganda’s plans would affect raw and processed agricultural products from Kenya, and would be the culmination of a proposal made two years ago but which had not materialised.

In April, Trade PS Johnson Weru led a delegation to Uganda on a seven-day tour after trade tensions mounted, with Kampala accusing Kenya of limiting some of its agricultural exports, particularly milk and sugar.

During the visit, the two sides agreed to resolve existing trade disputes and established a trading framework that would allow Uganda to export up to 90,000 metric tonnes of sugar per year.

A planned visit by Kenyan officials to Uganda last month on a fact-finding mission did not happen though it is not clear why.

Sour trade relations with Uganda risks dealing Kenya’s economy a big blow, because Uganda is Kenya’s biggest trading partner, with 2020 data showing Nairobi’s exports to that country were worth $673.66 million.