India battles China for Kenya’s market

STRONGER TIES: President Uhuru Kenyatta with the High Commissioner of the Republic of India Suchitra Durai at State House, Nairobi.
STRONGER TIES: President Uhuru Kenyatta with the High Commissioner of the Republic of India Suchitra Durai at State House, Nairobi.

INDIA is seeking to recapture its long-held position as Kenya's largest source of imports from China.

India’s High Commissioner to Kenya Suchitra Durai said on Friday her country was keen on growing investment opportunities in energy, agriculture and health sectors in Kenya.

She said her nation is also planning to extend lines of credit to Kenya and offer more business opportunities.

Durai denied India was competing with any country, insisting the move was aimed at balancing trade between the two countries, which is currently in her country's favour.

“We are committed to increase bilateral trade with Kenya. Though we are a big trade partner, it is still below our potential,” Durai said, during the three-day Kenya-India “Buyer-Seller Meet” exhibition that started Friday through yesterday.

India, which has generally been the top exporter of goods to Kenya over the last three years, fell behind China after its exports dipped by 4.84 per cent in the first ten months of 2015, provisional data from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicates.

The value of India’s exports to Kenya dropped to Sh208.3 billion between January and October from Sh218.9 billion in the same period of 2014. The world's second most populous country accounted for 22.7 per cent share of Sh916 billion worth of total imports into Kenya over the 10-month period.

Over the period, the value of China's imports into Kenya grew by 37.1 per cent to Sh273.8 billion from Sh203.3 billion in a similar period in 2014. This saw China command a 29.9 per cent of the imports into Kenya.

The growth in value of imports from China is mainly due to rising demand for construction equipment into the ongoing Sh327 billion, 485-kilometre Standard Gauge Railway project between Mombasa and Nairobi.

“We are not competing with anyone. There are areas that we know we are better than others. We will continue with this as we seek other partnerships,” Durai said.

She said her government is encouraging investors, especially in energy and health sectors, to expand to Kenya.

“Indian firms are keen on coming to set up health facilities and manufacturing of pharmaceuticals,” the high commissioner said.

India's interest in forging further bilateral ties with Kenya is set to be underlined by possible state visit of its premier Narendra Modi later in the year.

“We don’t have exact dates but I can assure you Kenya is in his itinerary,” Durai said.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Modi held bilateral talks during the third India-Africa Forum Summit last October.

During the summit, Uhuru said Kenya will help in procurement of land for Indian investors keen on developing medical facilities to boost medical tourism in the country.

Kenya’s top imports from India include mineral fuels, oils, distillation products, nuclear reactors, machinery, pharmaceutical products and electrical, electronic equipment.

Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Kiprono Kittony said the country can also capitalise on leather, agricultural products and minerals to increase exports to India.

“There is potential to grow our exports especially with value addition and technology transfer,” Kittony said.

Other major origin of imports to Kenya are UAE, Japan, USA, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Germany, UK, France and Netherlands.