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Uhuru calls for free trade deal with coalition of Gulf nations

 

President Uhuru Kenyatta responds to questions during a Q&A session during the opening of the Kenya-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States business forum in Dubai. [Courtesy]

President Uhuru Kenyatta wants Kenya and Gulf states to enter into an agreement that would result into a free flow of goods between the two markets.

Speaking on Tuesday at the opening of the Kenya-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states business forum in Dubai, the head of state expressed the need to develop a long-term solution to the many barriers that have curtailed trade between Kenya and the Gulf region.

“Towards this end, I propose we consider initiating discussions on a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council under the framework of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement,” the President said on the first day of his working visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The GCC consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

More than 70 per cent of Kenya’s exports to the Middle East goes to the GCC countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and UAE.

In 2020, Kenya exported goods valued at Sh42.6 billion to the two countries, with UAE taking up over 80 per cent of the goods.

The exports included mostly tea, goat and sheep meat as well as cut flowers, and tropical fruits.

On the other end, nine in 10 of imported goods from the Middle East to Kenya come from GCC, with the country importing products valued at Sh175.5 billion in 2020 from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman and Bahrain.

Kenya imports mostly refined petroleum from these countries. It also imports fertiliser from Saudi Arabia. To this end, President Kenyatta directed government officials to be at the forefront in facilitating trade to give the country a comparative advantage as an investment destination of choice.

Uhuru, who invited Gulf investors to set up shop in Kenya, said the country needed to adapt to what investors wanted and remove the bureaucratic red tape that undermined trade.

“We need to be the welcoming party. We are here to listen. We are here to facilitate. We are here to do what these investors require from us in order to come into our country to bring their investment, to help us create jobs and to help us develop our economy,” he said.

Captains of industry and business executives from both Kenya and the Gulf region, among other delegations, attended the high-level business forum held on the margins of the Expo 2020 Dubai.

Uhuru emphasised that Kenya seeks to strengthen its trade with the UAE, noting that a wide range of goods and services that the UAE imports from other parts of the world could be produced and supplied by Kenya.

“These include services such as hospitality and tourism, banking and financial services, ICT and data processing,” he said.

“With respect to goods, we have animals and animal products, gold, cut flowers, fish, pharmaceuticals, tobacco, textiles and apparel, vegetables and fruits that the UAE could procure from Kenya at competitive prices.” 

The President said enhancing trade between Kenya and the Gulf countries would help to address the urgent need for jobs and economic opportunities for young people.