Kenya’s decision to forge on with negotiating a new trade deal with the UK is a good move.
As it is, Kenya, as a middle income economy, stands to be the biggest loser once the old deal with the UK lapses on December 31.
The other EAC partner states will in the meantime continue to enjoy duty-free and quota-free access to the lucrative UK market even with the implementation of Brexit rules.
The UK market is too critical for Kenya to risk losing
Kenya’s decision to go it alone partly reflects the varying interests of the EAC partner states.
In delaying coming to the negotiating table alongside Kenya, the other countries — Uganda and Tanzania— are acting in their own self-interest as well.
They do have legitimate concerns about protecting their markets, an issue that also dogged the efforts to agree a new economic partnership agreement with the European Union.
Therefore, Kenya is also entitled to act in the best interest of its economy, where the UK makes up a significant part of the export market for key agriculture products.
The Trade Cabinet Secretary, Betty Maina, has said that Kenya is just seeking a transition mechanism, which will enable other EAC partner states to join when they are ready to do so and that the negotiations with the EAC are continuing.
Simply put, the UK market is too critical for Kenya to risk losing, given that the agriculture export sector is among the top iforex earners for the country alongside tourism and diaspora remittances.
However, even as the country forges ahead with the negotiations with the UK, the relevant ministries must not let up in their efforts to reach a common ground with fellow EAC member states on trade matters.
Ultimately, the whole region benefits from negotiating trade deals as a bloc, due to the advantages of presenting a larger market to potential trade partners.
Kenya must therefore make a more robust effort to lobby and rally the region behind its position, by presenting these deals as a win for all parties involved whenever possible.