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Trade deal might hand UK Kenya's multi-billion marine wealth

Kenya will allow vessels from the United Kingdom to fish in its territorial waters, raising fears of the country being short-changed in its multi-billion fisheries industry.

The trade pact between the two countries, which the National Assembly was to ratify by the end of March 8, 2020, allows the UK’s fishing vessels to operate in the waters of the East African Community Partner (EAC) States.

“The EAC Partner State(s) and the UK fishing vessels operating in the waters of the EAC Partner State(s),” reads part of the agreement.

MPs were to ratify or reject the agreement by end of yesterday. However, by the time of going to press, MPs had recommended for the ratification of the Kenya-UK trade deal despite major flaws in the agreement which even the lawmakers were not allowed to alter.

Some of the terms and conditions include the EAC countries setting up a vessel monitoring system (VMS) for the EAC State(s). For those countries without a compatible VMS, the UK will help them get it. Besides helping the EAC States to build capacity, the UK will also help Kenya in the fight against illegal fishing on its shores.

According to the pact, the two parties will also place observers on either national or international waters to be paid by their governments, with costs onboard borne by the ship owners.

All the ships that conduct fishing on the Kenyan shores will have to pass through the Kenyan port, adding a fresh revenue stream for Mombasa port.

While the Economic Partnership Agreement is so far between Kenya and the UK, it leaves room for the other EAC States to plug in later.

The blue economy or the economic exploitation of the resources of oceans, lakes, rivers and other bodies of water - is one of the areas of the Big Four agenda with the Western Indian Ocean valued at slightly more than $22 billion (Sh2.4 trillion), according to the Kenya Maritime Authority estimates.

Kenya’s current share of 20 per cent is worth $4.4 billion (Sh480 billion), with a big chunk of it being tourism.

However, the State wants to go beyond tourism and targets to expand fishing to 18,000 tonnes of fish annually from the current 2,500 tonnes, according to the Budget Policy Statement (BPS) of 2018.

“To facilitate the development of the blue economy, the government will strengthen enforcement measures to curb illegal fishing activities along with Kenya’s Indian Ocean territory,” said the National Treasury in BPS.

The State seeks to suspend the fishing licenses of all international trawlers operating in Kenya’s territorial waters until they comply with the local input requirement and enhance processing before export.

This is meant to improve the value of fish and marine products and remove structural bottlenecks in the sector.

Fisheries account for about 0.5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product and generate employment for more than 2 million Kenyans through fishing, boat building, equipment repair, fish processing, and other ancillary activities.

There has been disquiet over the design of the agreement, which does not allow any changes to the document by lawmakers. There is also fear that the UK, being highly developed, will overrun Kenya’s industries even in the case where the country has been given a longer transition period.

Kenya’s exports to the UK include coffee, tea, vegetables, cut flowers and fruits. It imports machinery, vehicles, pharmaceuticals, paper products, and electronic equipment from the UK.

Just like in the trade agreement with the European Union, Kenya preferred to go it alone in negotiating for a deal with the UK.