High-level consultations are underway to allow firms that manufacture plastic bags for export to remain in business in a bid to save the Sh3 billion a year industry, representing 38 per cent of all sector export earnings.
Statistics indicate that in 2016, sale of plastic bags earned Kenya Sh1.38 billion for 6,911.4 tonnes of sacks and bags from DRC Congo; Sh731.7 million for 3,826.8 tonnes (Burundi), Sh354 million from 1,379 tonnes (Comoros Island) and 1,192 tonnes worth Sh316 million from Mozambique.
Other countries receiving Kenyan products include South Sudan, Uganda, Malawi, Somalia, Zambia, Madagascar, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Djibouti, Denmark, Tanzania, Chad, Switzerland and America.
Sources within the Trade and Environment ministries said they had formed a committee together with the Kenya Association of Manufacturers to come up with a working modality that will end the month-long stalemate since the machines went silent.
Most of the 160 plastic packaging companies have remained closed, with workers declared redundant following the ban that took effect on August 28.
Last week, manufacturers roped in the Export Promotion Council (EPC) in their quest to have their operations re-opened. They agreed to discuss various options that could see them re-launch their operations.
The manufacturers say their products are not for the Kenyan market, adding that their cargo could be loaded onto containers, sealed and an electronic tag placed on them to ensure they are transported to their destinations.
Contacted, EPC chief executive Peter Kibet said Kenya is looking at all avenues to grow its export volumes from last year’s Sh578.1 billion against imports of Sh1.43 trillion.
“We fully support the plastic packaging products ban and would wish to see Kenya embark on waste management investments that provide a leeway for plastic bag-for-export manufacturers to resume operations. Kenyans need to change their attitude on disposal of waste to facilitate recycling,” he said.
The National Environmental Management Agency (Nema) allows manufacture of primary plastic packaging materials for industrial use but has maintained that secondary use is prohibited, with punitive penalties imposed.
Uganda has since invited Kenyan plastic companies to their country, promising to give them land and to fast-track licensing procedures. Investors and workers who will be assisted to acquire permits will be at liberty to repatriate the profits and earnings.
Mr Kibet said that while Kenya’s exports grew by a paltry 1.3 per cent, there was a need to safeguard the gains made while looking for other means to increase the earnings by about 15 per cent annually until 2030.
This would reduce the export-import imbalance by 50 per cent, he said.
“Kenya is jealously safeguarding its export markets. We are open to suggestions on how the plastics-for-export packaging companies can resume operations once proper mechanisms are found. We could turn them into export processing zones and deliberately deny them a local market option, or order them to move into special economic zones targeting the export market,” he said.