Kenya-UK trade pact gets free pass amidst controversy

The stained Kenya-UK economic partnership agreement has earned a free pass in Parliament following its smooth ratification on Tuesday night.

Premised on Kenya’s continued access to the UK market on duty and quota free status, the deal was easily adopted by Members of Parliament who had only weeks earlier threatened to shoot down the bill in its entirety.

Fresh produce exporters including cut flowers, fruits and vegetables will register the greatest gains from the adoption of the pact as they maintain a status quo in their access of the UK market following Britain’s transition out of the European Union on December 31 last year.

Small-scale farmers, who have already lamented the terms of agreement, will meanwhile remain at pains over the possible disenfranchisement of the local agriculture sector.

While gains for Kenya have been clear cut, the reciprocal deal for the UK remains with unsettled queries.

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For instance, Kenya will be opening up about 82.6 per cent of its trade to the UK including agricultural commodities such as pork, chicken and maize.

This means that a micro farmer in Kenya might not be able to compete with heavily subsidized maize or chicken from the UK market upon the full liberation of tariffs over a 25-year stretch.

Subsequent to the concerns, the Kenya-Small Scale Farmers Forum alongside lobby EcoNews Africa have moved to human rights court to seek interpretation on the agreement.

Among the parties top concerns have been an enquiry on whether the agreement was subjected to wholesome public participation to include the bulk of farmers.

On the floor of the house, however, the National Assembly Trade and Industrialization Committee sided with the Trade ministry’s account of the pact, diluting concerns on negative economic impacts from the deal.

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The Committees Chairperson Ali Adan Haji for instance argued the deal has been premised on the existing pact between the East African Community (EAC) and the European Union (EU) from which Kenya has enjoyed a surplus in its balance of trade with the UK.

Available data nevertheless backs the statement up with Kenya’s trade surplus to the UK rising from KSh4.1 billion in 2016 to KSh14.1 billion last year.

“The country stands to gain from this agreement. Moreover, we have a desensitise list of products which will not be liberalized including meat, dairy products, honey, flowers, vegetables and so on,” Hon. Haji stated.

On its part the Ministry of Trade and Industrialization, which was represented by Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina and Principal Secretary Johnson Weru during the ratification in Parliament, has argued the 25-year transition window provides adequate buffer for local industries.

The ministry says it will work to scale up the capacity of local industry to be more competitive against the UK products ahead of the close of the transition window in 2046.

Kenya will begin to liberalize UK’s primary goods after seven years (2028) and will ease tariffs on intermediate and finished goods under liberalized terms after year 12 (2033).

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