Nairobi needs to look beyond EAC for trade

EAC member states flags. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The United States has now overtaken Uganda as the largest buyer of Kenyan goods, ending Kampala’s long run as the top market for Kenya’s exports.

This has once again reinforced the need for Kenya to accelerate efforts in securing new markets beyond the East African region, which has for decades served us its captive market.

Official data show that exports to the US jumped 47 percent to Sh38.8 billion in the first half of the year on the back of increased sales of clothes. The sale of Kenya-made goods to Uganda dipped slightly at Sh36.2 billion in the period under review from Sh36.3 billion in the same half last year.

Kampala’s list of imports from Kenya has been narrowing over the years as investors set up factories in the country to manufacture goods previously imported from Nairobi, including edible oils and cement.

Tanzania and Rwanda have also been increasingly looking inwards, building capacity and propping up their local industries to manufacture their own goods. The fact that the bulk of Kenya’s exports have been agro-based also makes it easy for the region to catch up.

Kenya enjoys substantial duty-free access to the US market through the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a preferential trade programme for sub-Saharan African countries, but it expires in September 2025.

As Kenya pursues a full free trade agreement with the US to protect this market into the future, it must embrace the opening up of the African market into a free trade area. If Kenyan goods can be sold in the US, then they can be sold in any other market.

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.