Small scale importers at sea: How new import directive is smothering businesses

Some of contraband and anti-counterfeit goods that are to be crushed and destroyed by multi agency officials in Athi river.[ Willis Awandu/Standard]

Small scale importers are feeling the pressure as the government cracks down on importation of counterfeit products into the Kenyan market.

Tighter regulations on imports announced by Trade CS Peter Munya, including a directive that all goods imported into the country should be inspected in the country of origin, have had a toll on their businesses.

A number of small scale importers have complained that their containers have been held at the Inland Container Depot in Nairobi for as many as five months.

Their biggest protest is the requirement for consolidation of only similar goods in one container. The government says some crude businessmen have been taking advantage of previous rules to bring in counterfeit and undeclared goods.

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Nyokabi Kimani, the Organising Secretary of Nyamakima Traders Association, says it is common practice for small scale importers to ship goods in a single 40ft container.

“By outlawing consolidation, you are just killing businesses and crippling traders. Between 40 and 50 traders with different goods have been sharing one container. That is how we have been surviving,” she said.

The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) last year handed the traders a reprieve after it dropped a decision to destroy genuine goods found packaged alongside counterfeits and undisclosed imports. And last week, KRA issued a directive on verification of imports, which they later rescinded. In a memo, Commissioner in-charge of Customs and Border Control KL Safari authorised a 100 per cent verification for all cargo at all Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) Cargo sheds.

“You are hereby directed that the cargo shall be subjected to 100 per cent verification before release in the presence of officers from the Intelligence and Strategic Operations Department and the Investigations and Enforcing Department,” he directed.

Mr Safari withdrew the notice two days later.

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On Friday, European Union envoys in a meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta complained over the sluggish clearance of cargo at the Port of Mombasa.

President Kenyatta assured the envoys that every effort is being made to enhance efficiency at the port and that a multi-agency team set up by the government to battle the menace of counterfeits is winning. “We have consolidated all agencies (from 26) to four and this will create more efficiency in the clearing of goods at the port,” the President said.

But the cost of winning the war, the traders say, has had a devastating toll on genuine businesses.

Mercy Njeri, who deals with hardware materials in Nyamakima, said the new polices by the government had seen the delay of their goods at the port.

“There is a very serious problem since the state wants inspection to be done at the product’s country of origin and at the port. This has caused serious delays which has caused shortage of goods,” she said.

Chairman of Thika District Business Association Alfred Wanyoike said what the business people want is a government that will create and guarantee them a conducive business environment.

Mr Wanyoike claimed agencies fighting against counterfeits extort them. “The government has created so many hurdles for local entrepreneurs. Foreign companies seeking to set base here are being offered a very favourable working environment at the expense of local companies,” said Mr Wanyoike.

Nairobi Importers and Traders Association Chairman Ben Mutahi said whereas they fully support government’s effort to fight counterfeit and contraband goods, it should not implement blanket destruction of imported goods at the port. 

He also decried infiltration of foreigners, especially the Chinese, in Kenyan market.

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