Kenya’s imports from China surge 45pc as fish furore rages

A fishmonger carries a carton containing Chinese frozen Tilapia from East African Sea Food Ltd in Kisumu on June 29, 2016. The company imports fish from China. [Photo:Denish Ochieng/Standard]
China’s grip on the Kenyan economy tightened in the first quarter of this year after the value of imports from the Asian nation rose 45 per cent to hit Sh92.8 billion.

Latest data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that Kenya has on average been importing goods worth Sh23 billion every month from China between January and April this year. This saw the China overtake India as the biggest source market for Kenyan imports.

The data published Wednesday shows that India was the biggest source market for Kenya’s imports in the first quarter of 2015, after Kenya imported goods worth Sh84.5 billion in the period under review.

If this trend is sustained, Kenya could import over Sh270 billion this year from China. Already, Chinese firms are pushing out Kenyan and Indian firms from lucrative construction industry, doing major infrastructure projects including roads and the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).

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This comes at a time when it emerged that some fishmongers are importing fish from China to deal with growing demand amidst declining supply from lake Victoria. The revelation that East African Sea Food Limited (EASF) has been importing Tilapia from China for the past three months to address a deficit in Kisumu has been met by outrage from legislators from the fishing regions of the country.

On Tuesday, Members of Parliament from Nyanza and Coast threatened to call for a boycott of fish from China, citing health and economic concerns. The MPs said the importation has severely affected  fish-producing regions economically, as hundreds of local fishmongers have been pushed out of business.

The KNBS data does not give a breakdown of what exactly Kenya is importing from China. But fish is just the latest addition to a growing list of commodities from electronics, textiles to home care products that are arriving in the country by air and sea day and night.

Total value

Kenya has also been importing other things it can easily produce such as toothpick from China in what has seen it export jobs while killing local industry. China has also warmed itself into the hearts of many government officials in the country in what has seen it emerge as Kenya’s largest bilateral lender.

Data from the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) shows Kenya owes China $3.1 billion (Sh313 billion), or 19.1 per cent of the total external debt by the end of the third quarter of the 2015/16.

“The main contributors of build-up in external debt are China, the European Economic Commission (EEC), and the African Development Bank (AfDB),” the CBK says in its latest quarterly economic review. The KNBS data shows that in overall, the volume of trade expanded from Sh168.5 billion in March 2016 to Sh177.5 billion in April 2016.

The total value of exports fell to Sh52.56 billion while the value of imports increased from Sh114.4 billion in March 2016 to Sh124.9 billion in April 2016. A drop in exports when imports are increasing is set to worsen the country’s balance of payment and put the Kenyan shilling under pressure.

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