Since 1902

Economic diplomacy is the way to go

From the very outset, the Jubilee government indicated that it would pursue economic diplomacy. In this respect, there could not have been a better approach. Why? Let me illustrate. In late November, the US President, Barack Obama, suspended the entry of South Africa's goods under AGOA after accusing Pretoria of imposing several barriers to trade with the US.

Obama made the announcement following South Africa's anti-dumping embargo on certain US chicken products. The reason for the ban was that US firms were selling what was considered undesirable meat to South Africa.

South Africa was also concerned that US chicken producers had been benefiting indirectly from subsidies extended to US corn farmers, leading to lower production costs and further amplifying their competitive advantage. In addressing the situation, Obama resorted to Spartan economic diplomacy against South African goods. Upon weighing its options, SA had no other recourse but to allow the US to export 65,000 tonnes of chicken to its domestic market.

Although Obama's action was viewed as 'selfish', it nevertheless demonstrates how far certain countries are willing to go to secure their national economic interests. This and numerous other related examples demonstrate that the role of the State has changed with respect to a rapidly changing international environment. As a result, exercise of diplomacy has changed significantly, thereby demanding unprecedented adeptness in multilateral processes connected to security, economic, social and technological and several other vicissitudes, some quite subtle.

Today, countries use whatever it takes to achieve their national interests. This includes securing export markets, investment, lending, aid and free trade agreements, among others, all rightly in the realm of economic diplomacy. This also involves employing diplomatic personnel to promote trade, encourage growth, attract investments and extend necessary support to local industries and businesses.

Although the Opposition has serially berated President Uhuru Kenyatta for his many trips abroad, his brand of economic diplomacy has enhanced Kenya's visibility as well as its attractiveness as a 'frontier' destination, besides telescoping the country as a gateway to the eastern Africa region. Kenya has also actively directed its foreign policy toward Africa to pursue its domestic development goals. The scolding directed at Kenyatta for his constant trips abroad belongs to the dustbin of hackneyed political gambits.

Economic diplomacy, in the Kenyan context, has also meant exploring alternative sources of development assistance as epitomised by what typical fault-finders term 'going east'. Kenya is not interested in aligning itself to mute international ideological divides. Ours remains a pragmatic approach to diplomacy aimed at priming the country in ways that would attract significant foreign direct investment, tourism dollars and international conferencing.

The commitment to economic diplomacy has been pursued—with noticeable achievements already — through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade under the leadership of Amina Mohammed. The just-concluded WTO conference is a pointer to this success. It has seen us deliver to Africa the Nairobi declaration in which WTO member states agreed to do away with agricultural subsidies.

In the same breath, Kenya will host the 14th session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development starting July 22, 2016. This conference will bring together heads of states and governments, ministers and other prominent players from the business world, civil society and academia to tackle global trade and economic development issues. The agenda of this conference will address the 2030 focused Sustainable Development Goals broadly fashioned to counter poverty, fight inequality, injustice and tackle climate change.