UK premier’s visit calls for focus on boosting trade

President Uhuru Kenyatta with United Kingdom Prime Minister, Theresa May at 10 Downing street in London.
President Uhuru Kenyatta will on Thursday meet the United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May in Nairobi during her first visit to Africa.

The two are no strangers, having interacted in April during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the United Kingdom.

Unlike last time though, the in-tray for both leaders with regard to bilateral trade agreements have somewhat evolved. May is grappling with her country’s impending exit from the European Union and how this may impact on partnerships with other geopolitical important countries around the world.

On his part, Kenyatta will be concerned with the United Kingdom’s appetite to invest in a country that is nearly neck high in debt, and more importantly, with the looming shadow of China, a player keen to upset traditional alliances such as the Nairobi- London one, set out to curve new paths at whatever costs.

Kenyatta’s five-day visit in April saw him urge UK investors to increase their investments in Kenya. The UK is a leading investor in Kenya with more than 200 British companies, whose businesses are valued at Sh350 billion, operating in the country.

Looming exit

“Kenya has just recorded the best improvement in ease of doing business. We are inviting more UK companies to invest in Kenya,” the president said. “Kenya is the third most competitive country in Africa with a liberalised economy.”

He said the local business environment is supported by a strong telecommunication network, a reformed regulatory framework and an efficient aviation network.

Kenya is already a major trading partner in a couple of areas: fresh vegetables (80 per cent of Kenya’s exports go to UK) and tea (also 80 per cent of Kenya’s exports to UK).

The Thursday meeting might be punctuated by Kenyatta’s worries over the imminent threat posed by the looming exit of Britain from the European Union at a time when Kenya is seeing her dominance in the region challenged by emerging economies such as Ethiopia and feverish nationalism in old trade partners such as Tanzania that have seen them look inward and significantly cut dealings with Kenya.

So what positives can the Kenyan president pursue with regard to Brexit?

While writing for online platform Brits In Kenya, Kate Hoey, British Member of Parliament for Vauxhall says there might be some trade opportunities for Kenya to explore following Brexit.

“For example, Kenya is unable to sell beef directly to the EU. Brexit could offer Kenya access to a major beef-consuming market, if Kenya could ensure that it meets the safety standards which the UK government would set,” Hoey writes.

She also says Brexit might give an opportunity to both countries to break out of the EU’s old-fashioned viewpoint about trade with Africa, which based almost entirely on commodities, to exploring much more diversified relationships with African countries.

“The EU discourages industrialisation by imposing tariffs on processed products, for example. This means the incentive is only to cultivate raw goods, rather than, say, manufacturing or higher level production,” she says in the May 2018 article. Apart from trade though, national security is also set to feature greatly during the talks between the two heads of government.

With China’s forceful foray into markets once looked at as secure, May will definitely be on the lookout to insulate British interests from disruption and keep them away from the lustful gaze of an ever expanding China.

Ultimately though, May’s visit is yet another opportunity for an African leader to insist on Trade, not Aid as the basis of a relationship between two sovereign nations and while at it, perhaps insist on the return of billions of loot stashed away in foreign accounts and in dubious shareholding in British companies.  

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Bilateral TiesPresident Uhuru KenyattaUnited Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May