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September 22, 2008

South Africa bars Kenyan avocados

A trade row between Kenya and South Africa is simmering following the failure to resolve an administrative barrier that has seen Kenyan exports to the regional powerhouse shrink drastically over the last one year.

At issue is what Kenyan exporters consider a non administrative trade barrier that has blocked avocados from accessing the Sh150 million a year market. South Africa instituted the measure, saying the product posed a fruit fly threat to the country.

Since the ban was imposed in April last year, Kenya has lost 80 per cent of its fresh avocado exports going to South Africa. South Africa’s import inspection body raised the phytosanitary issues which Kenya exporters see as a form of protectionism.

Although the partial ban was attributed to a fruit fly threat, the chief executive of the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), Dr Stephen Mbithi, said fruit flies affect avocados from all African countries and did not warrant such punitive action.

Avocado exports are big business for Kenya, accounting for Sh2.2 billion in direct exports annually. “Fuerte” is the leading export variety followed by “Hass.”

South Africa alone imports fresh avocados worth Kshs 150 million annually, which are mainly used in the foods and cosmetics industry 80 per cent of exports to South Africa represent Kshs 120 million in earnings which have been lost due to trade barriers.

Exports say that the South Africa government has been known to resort to non-tariff trade barriers as a way of protecting the industries from external competition

"They are trying to protect their industry by banning imports," said Dr.M.Mbithi.

However, the South African government may be legally using a provision in international trade laws that allows countries to institute trade barriers in certain circumstances. "

International laws allow countries to protect themselves from hazardous imports that threaten their crops and this is what the south Africans government has used," said Mr. Edward Maina of the Horticultural Crop Development Authority. South Africa is also a major producer of avocado with most of its exports going to Europe.

However the avocado industry in South Africa is said to be seasonal due to the pressure of very cold winters, leading to very low production. The production season for the country avocados is only between March and October.

Kenya on the other hand enjoys an equatorial climate and avocado trees in the country produce all year round. The main production areas are around Mt.Kenya and the North Rift.

The country's exporters are now working with the Agriculture and Trade ministries to resolve the issue.

Business Daily Africa

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