NAIROBI - Kenya plans to seek a two-year extension of sugar import safeguards from regional trade bloc COMESA after reforms aimed at making its sugar industry competitive failed to move fast enough, a senior government official said on Monday.

The east African nation is expected to fully open up its market to imports from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) states after years of an arrangement that allowed it to charge steep tariffs to protect its sugar farmers.

The tariffs were scheduled to fall to zero next year, opening up the Kenyan market to sugar from regional producers, some of whom are far more efficient, making their sugar cheaper.

"Sugar reforms have not moved as far as we wanted. We wanted to put the sugar factories in the hands of private sector as quickly as possible. That has not worked out as quickly," said Romano Kiome, permanent secretary in the Agriculture ministry.

Kenya imports a third of the 750,000 tonnes of sugar consumed annually, most of it from Tanzania, Madagascar and Egypt.

The trade arrangements with COMESA in regard to sugar were first drawn up in 2002.

"We feel that we are not prepared yet to open up to regional markets and we will be applying for an extension ... that will still keep our farmers on safe grounds," Kiome told a news conference.

Plans to privatise five state-owned sugar factories have been moving at a snail's pace, demoralising farmers who were keen on a quick re-organisation of the industry.

Kiome said only 50,000 tonnes of sugar has been imported into the country this year due to high demand for the commodity in the world, leading to shortages in stores and high retail prices.

source: reuters

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