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Nairobi goes ahead with pioneering Brussels deal

After its neighbours pulled back from the EU plan, Ruto's government is going it alone

President William Ruto's government has signed a trade deal with the European Union which Brussels has described as its most advanced with an African state on climate change and labour rights.

'This momentous step heralds a new era where Kenyan goods gain immediate and permanent duty and quota-free access to the European market. Simultaneously, European goods will also enjoy preferential access to the Kenyan market,' said Trade Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Miano ahead of the signing ceremony.

There is political capital to be made from trumpeting EU-Kenya relations – which both Brussels and President Ruto have sought to cultivate over the past year – but very little of the EPA is new (Dispatches, 01/02/22, Brussels finds some friends in Nairobi). Most of it was originally negotiated with the now eight-member East African Community (EAC) and was abandoned in 2014 when most of the bloc refused to ratify it.

The text of the Kenya-EU deal will be open for other EAC countries to join. However, other leading countries in the EAC, including Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania, insist the terms of the EPA are too advantageous for Brussels.

The EU has sought to negotiate EPAs with most of Africa's regional blocs over the past 20 years but has concluded deals with only a handful of countries.

Several African leaders, business groups and civil society have complained that the EPAs offer little to developing economies which already enjoy preferential trade access and do not encourage the development of African industry and intra-Africa trade.

As the wealthiest EAC member, Kenya does not have duty or quota free access to the EU market. This new trade pact allows Kenya to protect some agricultural products, either by excluding them from tariff cuts or by keeping the option of triggering safeguards in case of sharp and sudden increase of imports from the EU.

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