Kenya says it is still discussing with South Africa for an urgent solution to address irregular policies which government officials admit are hurting trade between the two countries.
On Friday, Foreign Affairs CS Amina Mohamed told an audience in Johannesburg that a uniform set of rules on immigration and trade for the two countries is being discussed which, once agreed, could improve on their commercial links.
It was an admission that despite South Africa lessening some of its visa conditions on Kenyans last month, the rules are still stringent.
“Some have been partially addressed but they remain squarely on the table,” she told a gathering of businesspeople in Sandton Johannesburg, where the Kenyan High Commission in Pretoria is hosting the Kenya Trade and Investment Summit
“Even here much more needs to be done. We must finally agree to a bilateral standard regime applicable to the two countries,” she added, according to a statement from the Ministry.
Ms Mohamed is in South Africa with Acting Transport CS James Macharia and Energy PS Joseph Njoroge.
The two are meeting Kenyan and South African businesspeople in the latest bid to woe investors to Kenya with a slogan that Kenya is now a preferred choice.
Ms Mohamed encouraged South African investors to expand their ventures in Kenya saying that the country has now become a better destination for foreign direct investments, having risen from Sh49.9 billion in 2013 to Sh97.8 billion last year.
But irregular levies on goods, hygienic requirements and tough immigration laws are the impediments. Last month, South Africa agreed to to reduce visa application fees for Kenyans from the usual Sh6800 to Sh4700.
The agreement signed by Immigration Department chief Gordon Kihalangwa and South Africa’s Deputy Director of South African Immigration Services Jackie McKay also tackled transit visa, single entry visa, business, medical and student visas, change of immigration status for Kenyans in South Africa, visa application fees and travel arrangements for government officials.
One of the changes in the agreement was issuance of full-duration visas to students, waiving visa requirements for Kenyans transiting through South Africa to its neighbours.
However, Kenyans will still have to apply for visas the same way, meet all the other financial conditions, apply through a third party firm VFS Global, and wait for a visa within five working days.
Though the agreement talked of further discussions on waiving visa requirements for government officials as well as unconditional multi-entry visas, the issues are expected to be addressed over time.
On Friday, Ms Mohamed said those talks will be sped up as leaders of both countries acknowledge the need for a solution especially on trade barriers.
“I assure our respective business communities that the bilateral Joint Trade Committee (JTC) will continue to address outstanding issues so as to enhance trade between Kenya and South Africa,” said the Cabinet Secretary.
Total trade between Kenya and South Africa increased from US$506 million (Sh50 billion) in 2008 to US$700 million (Sh70 billion) in 2014, according to the Foreign ministry which also handles international trade.
It favours South Africa. Kenyan traders have often complained that their exports to South Africa have faced numerous tariff barriers and levies, which they claim have impeded their goods from accessing the South African market.
Kenya and South Africa signed a Joint Commission and Cooperation in October 2007 to address some of the issues, but solutions have taken long.