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EU duty approval to come just in time for Kenya's Valentine roses: official

[NAIROBI] The renewal of a duty-free regime between the European Union and five east African nations may not win approval until January, an EU official said, bringing it dangerously close to the Valentine's Day holiday so lucrative for Kenya's flower growers.

The flowers sold in the two weeks leading up to Feb 14 account for about a third of annual sales for Kenya's flower producers, some 90 per cent of them roses, according to the Fresh Producers Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK).

"We're looking at the third or fourth week of January. I do not think it's going to be possible to speed up the procedures further," Lodewijk Briet, EU ambassador to Kenya, told Reuters.

A European Union tax on fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers from the five nations has been in effect since Oct. 1 after the parties missed a deadline to renew the duty-free export regime.

Although they reached an agreement to renew last month, the pact now awaits approval by the European Parliament and European Commission. "We should certainly not take parliament for granted," Mr Briet said.

Chief executive of FPEAK Stephen Mbithi said he was still hopeful of approval by the end of December.

Horticulture - the cultivation of fruit, vegetables, flowers and nuts - is a leading source of foreign exchange for Kenya alongside tea exports and tourism, and agriculture accounts for about a quarter of Kenya's gross domestic product.