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Austria eyes deeper trade ties with Kenya in green tech

Edith Predorf, Commercial Counsellor, Austrian Embassy, Nairobi. [File, Standard]

Over the years, Austria has positioned itself as one of Kenya’s key trading partners. 

This has been buoyed by the strategic geographical locations and economic influence of both countries – Austria being at the heart of Europe and Kenya serving as a gateway to the East African region.

In 2021, trade volumes between the two countries stood at about €25 million (Sh2.97 billion), according to official data.

About Sh1.66 billion of these trade volumes were Austrian exports, while Sh1.3 billion were imports from Kenya.

“This shows that the trade balance is almost equal,” says Advantage Austria Nairobi Commercial Counsellor Edith Predorf.

“The first half of 2020 proved promising. Our exports rose by 53 per cent and imports from Kenya by 27 per cent.”

Advantage Austria is the official Austrian foreign trade promotion organisation, with the Nairobi office providing investment and economic cooperation in 11 countries, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Sudan, Burundi, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia.

Landlocked and once boasting the largest empires in Europe, Austria is largely an export economy.

It has an export rate of over 50 per cent of GDP and is ranked seventh in the world for exports per capita. “Every second job in Austria depends directly or indirectly on exports,” says Ms Predorf.

Considered a European cultural melting pot, Austria is a top global exporter of mechanical engineering, chemical products, vehicles, iron and steel, among other high-demand commodities.

Kenya sources energy drinks, medical and pharmaceutical products, and machinery from Austria, while the European nation imports flowers, fruits and vegetables, coffee and tea.

Red Bull, the multi-billion beverages, sports and media empire, is one of Austria’s most famous brands. Since the 1960s, Kenya has relied on Austrian engineering to generate hydropower.

Austrian companies have provided turbines for key facilities such as Kindaruma Power Station and also the larger East Africa.

The country of nine million, but over half a million companies, is now seeking to deepen bilateral trade relations with Kenya in green technology - environmentally friendly technologies in both the production process and the supply chain.

This week, the world gathers in Egypt for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) popular known as COP27, where mitigation of Co2 emissions is a core agenda.

Mitigation has always been an essential aspect of Austria’s local green economy. The country aims to be Co2 neutral by 2040,10 years earlier than the 2050 target for European Nations by the European Union.

 Waste treatment

Ms Predorf notes that green technology was a standard in Austria even before the term existed, with Austrian companies taking on pioneering international roles in fields such as clean energy technologies, waste treatment and water management.

“Austria spends approximately €3.87bn (Sh460 billion) on research and development every year, and Austrian companies are global leaders when it comes to environmental technology. We have already successfully implemented various projects in East Africa. We see vast potential in the Greentech sector in the future” she says.  

Some of the Austrian companies in the Greentech space present in East Africa include EREMA Engineering Recycling Maschinen und Anlagen GmbH.

The latter is a top global manufacturer of plastics recycling machines. 

Others are Komptech GmbH, a technology provider of machines and systems for the mechanical and biological treatment of solid waste and for the processing of woody biomass as a renewable energy source and Münzer Bioindustrie GmbH, one of Europe’s largest collectors, traders, and recyclers of used cooking oil (UCO), and Starlinger & Co GmbH, which deals with machinery and process technology for woven plastic bags.

Ms Perdof notes that there’s a lot of potential when it comes to manpower exchange between Kenya and Austria, with the former having one of the most skilled and educated workforces in Africa.

“Austria faces a dwindling workforce… the challenge at the moment is the regime of immigration to the EU and work permits,” she notes.

She identifies potential jobs such as IT and software engineering where Austrian firms could benefit from Kenyan techies.

The Austrian government is encouraging its firms to invest and set up production facilities in Kenya to boost trade ties further.

The country wants its investors to view Kenya not only as a holiday-making destination but as an investment hub and entry point to the region. 

Other Austrian companies are eyeing Kenya’s booming construction industry with affordable housing being a key agenda of the current government. 

Last year, Austrian start-up Neulandt introduced its portable precast plant for building affordable houses in Kenya.

The alternative building technology is tipped to greatly reduce construction costs.