Kenyan cut flowers could be locked out of Australian markets as Canberra moves to implement new biosecurity measures.
The new regulations coming into force on September 1 also cover Colombia and Ecuador, the other important cut flower exporters to Australia, who have complied.
For Kenya, which largely exports cut flowers to Europe, the Australia is critical for the growth of the sector as it offers an alternative market.
But Nairobi has unsuccessfully tried to negotiate for an extension of the deadline to comply with the biosecurity measures. The compliance date has been moved several times since March last year, with the latest being July 1, 2019 before it was moved to September 1. The Australian Department of Agriculture has said there will be no further extension.
Now, there are fears among producers and exporters that the European Union may borrow a leaf from Australia.
Australian authorities introduced the regulations in March 2018, and gave the target countries time to comply, extending the effective date three times.
Australia requires importers to apply for import permits to be issued upon compliance with measures to reduce the high volume of live pests in cut flowers. Flower consignments from Kenya are often intercepted due to pests such as thrips, moths and mites.
"The import permits will allow the department to reduce the biosecurity risk and more rapidly address non-compliance of individual importers," said Marion Healy, head of plant biosecurity at the Australian Department of Agriculture.
Flowers exported to Australia must also be fumigated at the country of origin, unlike before when exporters were fumigating them in Australia.
In the short term, the easier alternatives are fumigation using methyl bromide or chemical treatment through dipping or fogging.
Despite having more than a year to put systems for compliance in place, Kenyan exporters are still unprepared. Only a few have what it takes to access the market after September 1.
"The conditions are stringent and most exporters have not complied. We expect some to stop exporting to Australia if they cannot fumigate or guarantee zero pests," said Clement Tulezi, Kenya Flower Council chief executive.
The loss of the Australian market will be a blow to Kenyan businesses, that have been trying to diversify their markets and end dependence on Europe, where competition has become cutthroat.
Kenya exports on average 170 tonnes of cut flowers to Australia monthly, earning about $24 million annually.
"Australia is a growing market with huge potential and we cannot afford to lose it if we are to succeed in diversification," said Mr Tulezi.
Last year, the flower sector was among the top three foreign exchange earners, generating $1 billion.
The EU is Kenya's biggest market consuming 66 per cent of the flowers. The other key markets are Japan and China while efforts are ongoing to enter promising markets like Russia, Turkey, South Korea and India.
Australia requires that:
Importers apply for import permits to be issued upon compliance with measures to reduce the high volume of live pests in cut flowers. Flower consignments from Kenya are often intercepted due to pests such as thrips, moths and mites.
Flowers exports be fumigated at the country of origin, and not in Australia as has been the practice.