Why Has Kenya Started Exporting Avocados To China Despite Freezing Restriction Delay

Close up of avocados
Credit: Nur Afni Setiyaningrum

The implementation of a trade agreement that was signed by President Xi Jinping and his Kenyan counterpart, Uhuru Kenyata, for the export of Kenya’s avocado to China has begun. Mr. Benjamin Tito, Kenya’s Head of Directorate of Horticulture, revealed that Kenya has finally exported the first consignment of frozen avocado to China’s market last month.  

It can be recalled that in 2019, during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meeting held in Beijing, the two countries signed an avocado deal which “is estimated that when the agreement is fully implemented, the Chinese market will take in more than 40 percent of Kenya’s avocado produce, making it one of the largest importers of the fruit.” 

Commenting on the unprecedented export deal that year, China’s immediate past Ambassador to Kenya, Wu Peng, said “this will make Kenya the first African country to export avocados to China. We are very proactive to make the agreement real. Both sides are working closely to seal a deal on the export of fresh avocado and other products. There’s a growing need in China for high-quality agricultural products and Kenya has a prime opportunity. The market and policies are there, now both sides need to engage the right market players so that the deals bear fruits.” Then came a standstill. 

The ‘No-Freezing No Export’ Condition That Hindered Progress

However, the coming into force of the seven-year effort deal was delayed partly due to Beijing’s condition in the agreement that stipulated “Kenyan farmers and traders to freeze the fruits to -30 degrees Celsius after peeling off the skin and chill further to negative -18 degrees while on transit to the destination.” 

This precondition became necessary because according to Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Trade and Industrialization, Peter Munya, ‘’usually when you want to export something outside, there are standards you have to meet and when they came to assess the situation of avocados, there were found to be some flies, which made it difficult for us to be allowed to export raw avocados, and a decision was made to have frozen avocados exported,” 

Hence, despite the huge market made available through the trade agreement, the joy of Kenya Avocado farmers was shot-lived since they do not have facilities to freeze their crops for export to China. Kenya’s Plant Health Inspectorate Service once warned that “the conditions are so strict that Kenya’s avocado could be banned from the Chinese market if Kenya fails to comply with the set phytosanitary requirements.” 

Taking The Advantage At All Cost

Therefore, Kenya’s government, through the Ministry of Trade, started negotiations to have the directive eased and allow local firms to export fresh avocado as they work towards laying the necessary infrastructure to meet the requirements. For instance, Peter Munya announced that the government will help Kenyan farmers who do not have facilities to freeze their crops for export to China.

 “We are looking at building capacity for Kenya National Trading Cooperation to support small-scale farmers to aggregate and that’s already in the budget…. we have resources to support KNTC to upgrade its warehouses and then export,” Peter Munya said. Kenyan exporters, according to VOA, are also planning to make investments in cold storage to meet the requirements for accessing the Chinese market.

Kenya already exports stevia to China and avocado is the second farm produce. The country wants to also export 13 other priority farm produce to China in the future, including flowers, mangoes, French beans, peanut, vegetables, meat, herbs, bixa, and macadamia.  

China’s total foreign trade in 2018 reached 4.62 trillion dollars, of which China-Kenya trade volume was 5.3 billion dollars. 

Apart from removing tariffs on the African goods it imports to give the countries better access to its market, which other practical ways can China work with African countries to re-balance trade towards a more win-win footing?

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