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State woos firms to expand special economic zones

By Vivianne Wandera and Graham Kajilwa | September 17th 2021

Industrialisation CS Betty Maina at Africa Coffee roasters based at Athi River EPZ.

Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina has urged the private sector to transform its land into special economic zones, assuring firms of government support.

She acknowledged the role the private sector has played in the special economic zones and said the government is willing to provide the necessary services to woo more investors.

“We encourage private sector to turn their land into such serviced sites and the government will offer its services like Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and immigration services in such an environment,” she said yesterday during a visit to the Athi River EPZ.

“So far over Sh80 billion has been exported to other countries and the total amount invested in exports processing zones (EPZ) is Sh116 billion.”

Ms Maina toured African Coffee Roasters and MAS Intimates Kenya, a Sri Lankan company that makes high-end textile with links to notable brands such as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. The plant was set up under President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda to produce goods for export and is the largest employer in the Athi River EPZ of up to 20,000 people.

Over 60,000 people are employed across the country in EPZ. The number of gazetted zones as at end of December 2020 stood at 76, out of which 71 are privately owned and operated while five are public.

The programme has attracted investors from all over the world that have set up operations in the zones.

For the last five years, Kenya has been positioned as one of the largest exporters of apparel to the USA under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa) programme. In 2019, textile and apparel exports under Agoa from Kenyan-based companies were valued at over $450 million (Sh49 billion).

MAS Intimates Kenya started its operations in January 2020 and has so far shipped more than Sh165 million ($1.5 million) worth of garments largely to the United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico and Japan.

Its monthly sales are expected to increase to over $8 million (Sh872 million) by 2025. “We are doing export market here and we are making garments using Kenyan talent for export. We have currently hired 2,000 Kenyans and hope to go up to 7,000 next year,” said MAS Intimates Kenya country head Milinda Jayasundara.

Maina said when the government started the EPZ programme, the emphasis was on attracting export-oriented investments by creating and maintaining an overall favourable investment climate and addressing constraints faced investors.

However, according to the CS, nearly 40 per cent of investors in the EPZ are Kenyans. “More important is that a lot of them are doing value addition through our agriculture,” she said.

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