Kenya seeks better visa terms from Egypt to ease trade

Tuesday January 13 2015

Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry, who is in the country for a Kenya-Egypt business conference. Kenya has asked Egypt to relax visa rules in order to ease trade between the two countries. PHOTO | COURTESY

Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry, who is in the country for a Kenya-Egypt business conference. Kenya has asked Egypt to relax visa rules in order to ease trade between the two countries. PHOTO | COURTESY  

By AGGREY MUTAMBO

Kenya wants Egypt to relax restrictions imposed on Kenyans applying for visas as a way of easing trade between the two countries.

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed on Monday said some of the conditions imposed on Kenyans discourage the growth of trade though there are direct flights between Nairobi and Cairo.

“Kenya grants Egyptian passport holders three-month visas at the ports of entry,” she said in Nairobi.

“I wish to urge Egypt to reciprocate this friendly gesture and consider issuing Kenyans with visas for longer periods and at the points of entry.”

Ms Mohamed spoke after meeting Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who is in the country for a Kenya-Egypt business conference.

The meeting comes as Egypt tries to settle down after several years of instability arising from the Arab Spring chaos.

The chaos saw Hosni Mubarak deposed by the Muslim Brotherhood before they were also removed from power and former military man General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi elected president.

Trade dispute

The pandemonium in the north African country came as trade with Kenya was rising.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, trade grew to about $450 million in 2013, from $320 million in 2007.

Kenya sold mainly tea to Egypt, accounting for about $210 of trade.

At one time in 2011, Kenya and Egypt were embroiled in a trade dispute after Cairo raised its local value addition requirement for Kenya’s goods to 45 per cent, a move that Nairobi interpreted as an attempt to lock out its galvanised iron sheets.

Both Kenya and Egypt belong to the Comesa Free Trade Area, whose rules of origin require products from member states to have at least 35 per cent local value addition for free entry into any of the 19-member trading bloc. The dispute was resolved in 2013.

But much of the rest of trade favours Egypt. Firms usually find it cheaper to manufacture goods in Egypt and sell finished products in Kenya. These include sanitary products like toothpaste, diapers and towels.

The business summit scheduled for Tuesday afternoon will focus on ways to increase investments.

Egyptian and Kenyan company executives are expected to attend.

Egypt is led by Mr Shoukry, Mr Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour (Industry, Trade, Small and Medium Enterprise), Egyptian Ambassador to Kenya Mahomoud Ali Talaat and Egyptian investors.

Cairo especially aims to improve its African investment portfolio of $1 billion, which is carried in firms such as Citadel Capital (now Qalaa Holdings), which has invested in the Rift Valley Railways (RVR), Arab Contractors and other engineering and electrical companies.

But this could also be a forum to iron out other regional political issues, especially the dispute about the Nile.

The Egyptian delegation is expected to tour Kampala after the Nairobi meeting.

Riparian countries in the Nile Basin have been increasing pressure on Egypt to come back to the negotiating table over how the waters of the world’s longest river can be used.

Nile Basin

The Nile Basin includes 11 countries in Africa that either use or are the source of much of the water in the Nile.

They include Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Egypt, Sudan, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Together, they created an organ called the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI ) in 1999 to start negotiations for a treaty that would see an “all-inclusive” use of the river. Eritrea participates in the NBI as an observer.

Although the NBI was supposed to help reach a Comprehensive Framework Agreement that would guide proper use of the waters, the riparian states are concerned that Egypt developed cold feet.

Egypt and Sudan have traditionally taken the biggest share of the Nile even though they contribute the least percentage to its waters.

This is because of two treaties signed in 1929 and in 1958 when most of the riparian states except Ethiopia were colonies of Britain, Belgium and France.

At the moment, about 25 dams are either under construction or planned by riparian states along the Nile, projects that could affect the flow of water to Cairo.

Ms Mohamed said Kenya is ready to sign a Kenya-Egypt Bilateral Trade Agreement, a pact that could ease the restrictions imposed by both countries on traders.

But she called for a “greater engagement” by the private sector to create networks.

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