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Kenya pushes for regional leadership but goes it alone on international commerce
Most member states in the East African Community (EAC) have reacted with bemusement to Kenya's signing of an Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union (AC Vol 64 No 14, A man for all summits). The signing of the trade deal in June brought an end to a ten year block on the EPA, which had originally been negotiated with the then six-nation EAC as a whole only to then be blocked by several of its members (AC Vol 58 No 21, Terminal EPA delay).
Back then, Kenya was the only member of the EAC to be classified as 'middle income', while its peers automatically had tariff- and quota-free access to the EU market under the 'Anything but Arms' agreement. Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda refused to sign the EPA with Brussels on the grounds that it would require them to open up their own economies to European firms.
There are longstanding concerns among EAC officials that the EU's access to Kenya's market could undermine the EAC's common external tariff, and they say that Kenya's trade talks with Britain and the United States could do the same.
Nairobi insists it was exercising its right to ratify the trade deal that was established when EAC leaders agreed that 'variable geometry' could be applied at a summit in February 2021.
The dispute adds a wrinkle to President William Ruto's attempts to extend EAC membership. On a visit to Comoros last week, Ruto urged his counterpart Azali Assoumani to apply to join the EAC, the latest diplomatic move by the Kenyan President who wants to strengthen the regional trade bloc and the African Union.
Ruto tries to style himself as the bloc's de facto leader (although he is not its current chair) by inviting Ethiopia to join the EAC and has been publicly supporting Somalia's verification process to join the bloc since its membership application last year.
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