Stock outs hit traders as coronavirus scare hurt China imports

Kenyan traders who import from China risk running out of stock due to travel restrictions put in place to check the spread of coronavirus outbreak.

The worst hit are importers of electronics, cosmetics, motorcycles and motor vehicles spare parts.

A spot-check in Nairobi Central Business District showed that wholesalers and vendors of goods imported from China are staring at an acute shortage of merchandise as they cannot import from the Asian country.

In China, all stores are closed during the first five days of the spring festival, with some not opening until the very end. People must stock up on New Year supplies (nian huo) beforehand and many begin on the Laba festival. This year, Chinese New Year began on January 25th and ends February 8th.

Restriction of movement

“Our suppliers in China told us they will resume business on February 2, but later postponed it to 9th. The final communication is that they are not certain anymore of when they will open up stores to deliver our orders due to restriction of movement by their government. However, they are still receiving orders,” said Nicholas Muriuki, manager at Jumtel Communications.

The traders worry that by March or earlier, they will have run out of stock and their businesses will suffer. This will in turn lead to an increase in price of their commodities as they grapple to maintain profits while demand shoots up.

“We cannot risk going to China right now because we fear for our lives, we may be forced to opt for more expensive alternatives like Dubai, Europe and US,” said Anne Wanjiru who sells computers in Nairobi.

“If this condition goes on for a prolonged time, we will be forced to seek alternative sources, the prices will definitely go up for goods that have no substitutes,” said Lucy Kibandi, the proprietor of Ecomart Supermarkets in Juja, Kawangware and Uthiru. She imports furniture from China.

With China being among the top trading partners of Kenya, traders in the country are already feeling the pinch as some cannot travel to China to stock up due to fears of Coronavirus infections in the Asian country.

“We are looking at a potentially disruptive threat given China’s growing trade with Kenya. Imports of machinery, electronics, steel and others could be affected. This imports create employment in this country,” said University of Nairobi lecturer Gerishon Ikiara.

Total imports

Cosmetics dealer Best Lady said if their make up, mascara, lipstick and the stock of other products runs out, they will have shortages.

Kenya’s imports from China has been scaling up over the past years to hit a high of Sh390 billion in 2017, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. This is against the total imports of Sh1.7 trillion during the year.