Dar es Salaam — Agriculture minister Adolf Mkenda said yesterday that Kenya's ban on maize from Tanzania and Uganda was in contravention of the East African Community (EAC) protocol.
He, however, noted that Tanzanians should be encouraged by a statement from Kenya's Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya that Nairobi had not banned maize imports from Uganda and Tanzania over aflatoxin fears.
The Kenya Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) said in a letter dated March 5, 2021 that it had been established that maize from the two countries had high levels of mycotoxins "that are consistently beyond safety limits of 10 parts a billion," therefore sparking off a fresh trade war between the three founding EAC partner states.
But later, Mr Munya said Kenya had not banned the imports, noting that what AFA was doing was to check the quality of maize coming into the country.
He hinted that lorries held up at the Namanga border post would be cleared after undergoing further tests.
But on Monday, Prof Mkenda told The Citizen that despite the light at the end of the tunnel following Mr Munya's statement, Tanzania was concerned about lorries stranded at Namanga.
"I'm told there are about 20 lorries carrying maize consignment stranded at the border. The Kenyan authorities have taken samples from each lorry for testing.
"It means the lorries will remain there until production of results, which, however, is contrary to the EAC protocol," he said.
Prof Mkenda added that procedures provided by the EAC Protocol require that a country that has issued an import permit for agricultural produce to include provision of a batch certificate which is known in Kenya as the certificate of conformity from an institution responsible with standards control and assurance like the Tanzania Bureau of Statistics (TBS).
He said exporters holding documents from such institutions should be allowed to cross the borders without interference, inconveniences and restrictions.
"Cross-border restrictions are not part of the EAC member states' agreements. Even in the absence of the block procedures, the World Trade Organization (WTO) guidelines for trading agricultural products could be enforced."
Prof Mkenda said all EAC member states have the right to test and get satisfied with the quality of imports including determining the level of health threatening substances like aflatoxins and their respective levels of conformity.
He noted, however, that such measures should not be applied as non-tariff barriers (NTB).
"I don't believe if this is what Kenya intends to do. I believe both Kenya and Tanzania want to continue enjoying bilateral trade relations and benefit it's people" he said.
He said there were ongoing efforts that commenced shortly after getting preliminary reports that Kenya was planning to ban importation of our maize, but he declined to go into details.
"I'm sure the ongoing efforts, together with Mr Munya's statement that this matter is heading to a smooth end that will enable the two friend countries to continue doing business involving bulks of consignments.
Prof Mkenda said being the EAC chair, he was optimistic that Kenya was committed to agreements made by the EAC through its protocol, the same way Tanzania is committed to similar resolutions.
Meanwhile, this has led to long queues of stranded lorries loaded with maize at the Namanga and Holili border posts.
Traders and officials reached by The Citizen yesterday said the Kenyan authorities were yet to allow imports of the cereal.
"Discussions have been going on but the situation has been like it was since the March 5 ban," said Julius Mollel.
He said maize producers have stopped ferrying the produce from the rural areas to Arusha for export to the neighbouring country.
Another ripple effect is the sharp fall in the price of the commodity in the Arusha markets where most of the exports are routed.
One bag now fetches only Sh30,000 from Sh65,000 a few weeks ago. The leading staple is also losing markets in other northern regions.
Mr Mollel, a maize trader at the Mbauda market, said Kenyan authorities continue to insist that the imports have to meet the safety benchmark.
The certificate of conformity should indicate that the Aflatoxin levels comply with the maximum required levels of 10 parts per billion.
Exavery Temba, another maize dealer, said they had not been updated on the discussions by officials at the border on the crisis. Among the Tanzanian officials involved were those from the Arusha regional commissioner's office. "There is no feedback so far," he added.
Walter Maeda, the chairperson of the Arusha chapter of Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA) appeared much worried.
"The restrictions by Kenya are too tough. The Tanzanian exporters must be registered in Kenya and their godowns (in Tanzania) inspected," he said.
He told The Citizen the chamber is expected to meet the regional officials anytime this week to discuss the embargo.
A maize trader in Moshi, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the situation remained the same with loaded vehicles stranded at Holili.
Although the ban is attributed to fungus contamination, regional analysts fear the move could set another stage for trade wars between Tanzania and Kenya.
Kenyan millers were last week quoted by Business Daily faulting their government's blanket ban on maize imports from the two countries.
The move would have serious implications on the price of flour in Kenya but also sour trade relations between the East African Community (EAC) member states.
The processors argued that the Kenyan government should have only intercepted the maize that has high levels of the mycotoxins.
"The one (maize consignment) that meets the set standards should be allowed into the country," they insisted.
The Arusha-based East African Law Society (EALS) has criticised the move, saying Tanzania and Uganda were not consulted in advance.