Addressing the 17th COMESA Authority Summit of Heads of State and Government in Kinshasa, the DRC on Wednesday, Deputy President William Ruto outlined reforms that have been implemented to render the sugar sector in Kenya competitive in line with the conditions directed under the safeguard.
He said the reforms include substantial infrastructure development funded by the European Union and the sugar development fund as well as the adoption of a cane pricing formula.
He added the sugar industry has adopted and is implementing an energy policy which promotes diversification in production through co-generation of electric power and other forms of bio-fuel energy production.
Ruto went on to say that the Kenya sugar research foundation has complemented the reform efforts by developing 14 high-sucrose , early maturing and pest resistant cane varieties which are currently undergoing on farm demonstration in conjunction with farmers.
Most importantly he added, the government has laid the policy reforms required to privatize the public sector owned sugar mills, adding the national assembly has endorsed the writing off of excess debts owed by these entities to the government and the sugar development fund.
“The amelioration of these liabilities is expected to make the balance sheets more attractive to private sector investors.”
Ruto made it clear that it was only a matter of time before all reforms required to unlock Kenya’s sugar competitiveness are complete adding the delay has nothing to do with unwillingness to undertake them in a timely fashion.
“Kenya therefore requests member states to note the progress made under difficult circumstances and efforts made to realize all necessary reforms and consider extending sugar safeguards for a further year from March 2014 to March 2015,” he added.
On infrastructure, Ruto pointed out that the development of functioning infrastructure is critical in transforming COMESA economies from middle income and eventually higher income economies.
He said to realise this, member states have launched the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway running from Mombasa to Kigali through Nairobi and Kampala.
“Kenya is also collaborating with neighbours to develop the Lamu Port South Sudan Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) which will be the second major transport corridor in our region,” he added.
Ruto said infrastructure development in the region was critical in transforming COMESA economies from primary producers into middle income and eventually high income economies.
“An infrastructure system including roads, ports, railways, energy generation and transmission, information and communication technologies as well as other public utilities is essential to regional competitiveness, ” he added.
The Deputy President underscored the importance of micro-small and medium sized enterprises in the production of various sectors of the regional economies and in the generation of opportunities for employment, development of skills and poverty eradication for the people.
He noted that the principle challenge facing the sector is access and affordability of financial services for millions of people in the region and asked COMESA member states to increase access to basic financial services to be able to sustain them.
In this regard he expressed optimism that the COMESA small-scale , medium enterprise empowerment fund currently standing at USD5 million will grow to USD100 million in 2014.
He said Kenya is interested in working with fellow African countries to develop and implement an African open skies policy adding that he was confident that these measures will intensify the region’s and continent’s growth momentum.
On cross border transit, the Deputy President said Kenya has embarked on developing one-stop border posts along the transport corridors to address the issue of delays due to the cost of transit and cross border operations.
On peace and security in the region Ruto noted that economic well being is inextricably connected with stability which in turn is guaranteed by peace and security within the member states and in the region.
Consequently, he said, COMESA has been improving its normative instruments and institutional arrangements to accommodate policies and strategies to address challenges to peace and security in the region.
“Kenya therefore fully supports all peace initiatives throughout the region. We wish our hosts the DRC, Somalia and South Sudan all the best and hope that they will attain lasting peace very soon,” he said.
Ruto urged all parties to the South Sudan Cessation of Hostilities Agreement to remain at the negotiating table until full resolution is achieved.