The Standard, Nairobi, Thursday March 2, 2006
Kenya, Sudan to sign trade pact
By Kenneth Kwama in Khartoum
Kenya and Sudan are set to sign a bilateral trade agreement that may open up the vast Sudanese market to Kenyan entrepreneurs.
Trade and Industry Assistant minister Abdirahman Ali said ongoing talks would mark the last leg of the negotiations that opened in 2001.
"We want to sign the agreement soon enough to facilitate the free flow of business between the two countries," he said.
Ali is leading a Kenyan delegation on a week-long business trip to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. The delegation is made up of top government and private sector officials, including Trade and Industry PS David Nalo and the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM,) Betty Maina.
Nalo said the Kenya Government was particularly keen on supporting investment in Southern Sudan including Juba where Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) has invested close to Sh72 million.
The PS said the trade agreement should specifically deal with the elimination of non-tariff barriers such as the requirement that Kenyans travelling to Sudan for the first time obtain a visa.
Maina said the requirement was impeding people’s movement and limiting the supply of goods and services.
"We have been trying to promote open and honest trade between the two countries, but we have yet to realise any gains because of the barriers," she said.
Maina said there was need to strengthen cooperation because both countries stood to benefit from the move. She said it was important for both parties to critically look at the structures of their economies since Kenya had learnt a hard lesson after Egypt flooded its market with cheap goods produced in a subsidised production process.
The delegation had a tight schedule as it met officials from Sudan’s twin ministries of foreign trade, investment, the customs department and the Bank of Sudan.
Sudanese officials were upbeat that the two countries would reach a workable trade agreement but expressed concern that trade balance remains heavily in favour of Kenya.
"We are happy to be trading with Kenya, but this trade is not helping us much because it is heavily tilted in favour of one party," said Dr Abbas Mohammed, an under secretary in Sudan’s Ministry of Investment.
Nalo, however, assured the Sudanese officials that Kenya was not just chasing profits but was also interested in making the trade mutually beneficial.
Over the past two years trade between the two countries have grown by more than 200 per cent.
The Sudanese, however, maintained that they would only be happy if anomalies that skew business in Kenya’s favour are removed.
Despite going through nearly three decades of civil war, Sudan has maintained consistent economic growth.
Large manufacturers have been the main drivers of the growth, which has averaged 7.2 per cent.
The upturn is broadening from the big companies to small businesses whose growth is mainly facilitated by domestic demand.