Strathmore Law School Hosts Guest Lecture on EU-EAC Trade Dynamics by PS Alfred K’ombudo

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On the 14th of February 2024, the Strathmore Law School was honoured to host a lecture by Mr. Alfred K’ombudo, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Investments, Trade and Industry, State Department of Trade. The lecture focused on Trade Dynamics in East Africa: Insights into the EU Economic Partnership Agreement. On the 19th of June 2023, Kenya and the European Market (EU) concluded negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). This agreement will be helpful in boosting trade, creating new economic opportunities with targeted cooperation to improve Kenya’s economic development. This agreement is important because Kenya supplies 21% of its exports to the European Union, a regional bloc made up of 27 countries with a combined GDP of around 14 trillion Euros. It is therefore paramount for such an agreement to be put in place in order to expand and actualize Kenya’s  economic potential.

Over the last few years, Kenya’ economic strategy has undergone a transformation. This means that the country is venturing into producing more goods and services and expanding its supply to newer markets. This EPA also includes the prioritization of non-trade concerns such as labour standards, climate-change, biodiversity, and gender equality. Commitments that bar the parties from lowering labour and environmental standards are binding and enforceable. The Principal Secretary also revealed that the EU has a great demand for sustainably produced goods and services. Kenya is thus prioritizing sustainable production of these goods and services for the EU market.

Kenya is a Partner State to the East African Community. This Community was formed for the purpose of integration between Partner States. These States should ideally be coordinated in the opportunities of development that are offered to them. In meeting its objectives, the Community ensures the strengthening and consolidation of co-operation in agreed fields that would lead to equitable economic development. This would in turn raise the standards of living and improve the quality of life for its citizens. Accordingly, the principle of variable geometry provides flexibility that allows for progression in co-operation among a sub-group of members in a larger integration scheme in a variety of areas and at different speeds. This is an operational principle under the EAC Treaty, which allows for progression in co-operation among groups within the Community for wider integration schemes at different speeds. With the consensus of the EAC, Kenya was allowed to negotiate and enter into an agreement with the EU. This is a step towards opening up future cooperation between the Partner States and the EU.

A concern was raised on whether the imbalance of bargaining power between Kenya and the EU made it difficult for Kenya to safeguard its interests in the agreement. However, Mr K’ombudo clarified that the team of Kenya’s negotiators was well equipped and did extensive research during the negotiation process. This balanced out the playing field, ensuring that both parties negotiated favourable terms. He also suggested that the country needs to capitalize more on training Kenyans as trade negotiators in order to create an extensive network of homegrown human capital that can efficiently carry out such negotiations on behalf of the country.

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