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Kenyan exports fall marginally on subdued global demand

exports

A worker loading tea for auction and export. Tea is Kenya’s largest export, fetching Sh163.27 billion in 2022. FILE PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NMG

Kenya’s exports declined 2.2 percent in 2023 despite a weaker shilling, which increases the earnings of exporters when they convert their income into local currency.

The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) did not give a figure for the export earnings in 2023, but the country exported goods worth Sh779.6 billion in 2022, indicating that last year’s export earnings reduced to about Sh762. 4 billion. The CBK data shows that exports across most categories dropped during the year, reversing the 9.3 percent rise in export earnings recorded in 2022.

The decline in exports in 2023 was across several categories, except food, chemicals, and manufactured goods exports, which increased by 0.8 percent, 2.8 percent, and 11.3 percent, respectively.

“The increase in manufactured export receipts reflects strong regional demand,” said the CBK.

This is the first time that Kenya’s exports have declined in four years. The last time the exports dropped was in 2019 when the value reduced to Sh520.78 billion down from Sh542.85 billion in 2018. Since then, exports have rallied year-on-year, growing from Sh567.37 billion in 2020 to Sh666.73 billion in 2021 and thereafter to Sh779.6 billion in 2022, according to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

Read: Irony of a weak shilling and declining export earnings

Tea is Kenya’s largest export, fetching Sh163.27 billion in 2022 followed by cut flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables, which fetched Sh152.26 billion.

Other top exports include apparel and clothing, coffee, iron and steel, essential oils, and animal and vegetable oils.

The decline in exports was also a major blow to foreign exchange, with exports the largest source of forex only behind diaspora remittances which are Kenya’s largest foreign exchange source.

With the rapid depreciation of the Kenya shilling against the US dollar, especially over the past year, importers have been struggling to source dollars to make payments for their imports.

Kenya’s exports have also suffered from diminished demand from source key destination markets especially in Africa which are also struggling with high inflationary pressures of their own.

One of the key export products that took a hit from reduced demand was cut flowers, whose earnings went down sharply to Sh73.45 billion in 2023 compared to Sh104.25 billion in 2022, according to the Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD).

Read: Kenya's Africa trade surplus hits new high of Sh121 billion

However, the CBK has projected the economy to stabilize in 2024 in an outlook that bets on the global economy to recover during the year and stimulate demand for Kenya’s exports.

“The economy is expected to remain strong in 2024, supported by the resilient services sector, the improved performance in agriculture, implementation of measures to boost economic activity in priority sectors by the government, and the improved global growth outlook which is expected to benefit exports,” said the CBK.

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