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Crisis talks due as airline clash escalates

The latest cargo flight trade row threatens to cause economic pain for everyone

Tanzania's foreign minister January Makamba and Kenyan counterpart Musalia Mudavadi are set to hold emergency talks to resolve the latest tit-for-tat trade row between Nairobi and Arusha.

The Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) announced on Monday (15 January) that it will suspend all Kenya Airways (KQ) passenger flights between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam from 22 January. The move was a response to Kenya's recent rejection of Tanzania's request to allow its airline, Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL), to operate cargo flights between Nairobi and third countries.

Within hours of the TCAA's response, Mudavadi and Makamba issued a joint statement vowing to resolve the conflict before the end of the week.

It is not the first time that the national airlines have been dragged into political disputes. In 2020, Tanzania suspended KQ flights after Kenya excluded Tanzania from its list of countries whose citizens could enter without quarantine restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic (Dispatches 17/1/23, How a truce in the trade wars boosts business).

The latest dispute threatens to cause economic pain all round, particularly for business travellers and tourists by increasing prices. It also underscores the weakness of the East African Community (EAC) which, despite purporting to be a tariff and quota-free trade area, with a common external tariff, still has major disputes between its largest economies and protectionism (AC Vol 63 No 2, Club of rivals). Intra EAC trade has fallen in recent years.

Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda account for the bulk of the region's trade. However, increased supplies of goods from Uganda last year prompted Kenya to block imports of a range of staple products including milk and sugar. Uganda, meanwhile, has taken Kenya to the EAC court over the importation of petroleum products.

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