Kenya signs EU trade deal boosting Brussels’ ties in Africa

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At a ceremony in Nairobi on Monday, Kenya and the European Union inked a trade agreement. This is the first significant agreement with an African nation since 2016 that Brussels has sought to strengthen economic connections with in order to compete with China’s demand.

In a victory for Brussels as it seeks closer economic links with Africa in the face of competition from China, Kenya and the European Union have inked a trade agreement.

On Monday, a ceremony in Nairobi marked the official end of talks for the EU-Kenya Economic Partnership Agreement under the leadership of Kenyan President William Ruto.

Kenya would get duty-free and quota-free access to the EU, its largest market and the destination of around one-fifth of all exports, if the agreement is confirmed and put into effect.

Progressive tariff reductions will be applied to some imports from the EU to Kenya over a 25-year period, however some delicate goods would be exempt.

“Today is a very proud moment for Kenya, and I believe a very proud moment for the European Union,” Kenyan Trade Minister Moses Kuria said after signing the accord with EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis.

Kenya’s principal agricultural exports to the EU include vegetables, fruits, and the country’s famed tea and coffee.

More than 70% of Kenya’s cut flowers are sent to Europe.

Ruto, who called the EU “Kenya’s second most important development partner after the World Bank,” said farmers could be “assured of a predictable market,” and the deal opens up new potential to enhance commerce.

“It ensures a stable market for industrialists, for our farmers, and also industrialists in the European Union,” he said.

Dombrovskis said EU companies had invested 1 billion euros ($1.1bn) in Kenya in the past decade, but that there was “a strong appetite” to do more business.

“With this deal in place, we have the right platform to do so,” he said.

It is the first major trade agreement between the EU and an African country since 2016, and it comes on the heels of China’s spending frenzy on extravagant infrastructure projects across the continent.

In response to China’s Belt and Road plan, the EU said in February that it will raise its investments in Kenya by hundreds of millions of euros through its own Global Gateway plan.

It is part of a recent trend of Western allies courting African states as Russia and China develop a presence on the continent.

Dombrovskis described Kenya as “a beacon of dynamism and opportunity,” matching the worldwide impression of Kenya’s relative stability in a volatile area.

In a press conference before Monday’s event, Dombrovskis stated that Africa was a “priority region” for the EU and that he hoped the Kenya agreement would “be a boost” to future commercial connections with Africa.

The Kenya agreement is the culmination of over a decade of trade discussions between the EU and the East African Community (EAC).

The EU and the EAC, followed by Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania, completed discussions for an economic partnership deal in 2014, but only Nairobi ratified it.

Kenya went its own way, but Dombrovskis said the accord was still open for other EAC countries to join, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.