Kenya needs savvy diplomats to steer global trade agenda

Foreign affairs secretary Dr Monica Juma. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Foreign affairs secretary Dr Monica Juma. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The importance of economic diplomacy for Kenya is at its most crucial position in the face of retreating globalisation amid the rise of protectionism.

Protectionism agendas, perpetuated through right-wing ideologies, is gaining significant influence across the globe and developing nations need to be cautious of the implications to their own economies.

The interdependency in international business and the web of globalisation, means political decisions have a farther economic reach than ever before.

The current America First policy has directly affected Kenyan and Rwandan industries. Both nations banned second-hand clothes to promote their industries, but the US policy forced Kenya to reverse the restriction in favour of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).

Rwanda held firm and its duty-free benefit under Agoa has been suspended. There are similar economic and aid contraction threats to countries not voting in favour of US-backed resolutions at the UN General Assembly, which further compounds the impact across the world due to the trade war between the two largest economies.

The toxic trade verbiage between China and the US are impacting exports from the EU while, Brexit negotiations are placing significant uncertainty to UK and EU trading partners.

Beyond the US and the UK, the rising right-wing narrative crept its head in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Italy who are all influential trade partners with sub-Saharan Africa and specifically, key destinations of Kenyan exports.

Closer to home, protectionist lobbying postponed Nigeria’s commitment to the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement.

Kenya’s diversified economy has a growing dependency on international trade and we, therefore, need to be deliberate with our engagements in the international community.

Development and prosperity is the cure to many of our social ills, so we should place the economic agenda at the forefront of our domestic and foreign policies.

Kenya has been expanding its diplomatic engagements to the East while maintaining relations in the West. It is, however, time for us to be very purposeful with economic diplomacy across all foreign engagements.

Economic diplomacy is the management of relationships between countries and serves national development interests. Kenya’s international neutrality allows an opportunity to appropriately lower its emphasis on political diplomacy and dial-up economic interests.

Kenyan imports in 2017 were three times the value of our exports. This deficit is an opportunity to penetrate more markets in Africa and beyond, while simultaneously, enticing foreign direct investment.

Such opportunities need to be cerebrally managed by the diplomatic community to drive the economic agenda at home.

In order to ensure its effectiveness, the posts would likely be a double subordination to the Ministry of Industrialisation and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Political polarity is less a factor in international trade and Kenya needs a hybrid of diplomats and technocrats to truly propel the development agenda in the face of threatened globalisation principles.