Kenya’s goods trade surplus with Africa reached record levels in the first three months of the year driven by the fastest growth in exports for 12 years and a first fall in expenditure on imports in three years, official data shows.
Traders sold goods worth Ksh98.85 billion ($712.69 million) to African countries in the January-March 2023 period against an import bill of Ksh61.72 billion ($444.99 million), according to provisional data collated by the Central Bank of Kenya.
Earnings from exports in the period were 23.33 percent higher than the previous year, the strongest growth since 2011, while imports fell 6.02 percent year-on-year from Ksh65.67 billion ($473.47 million) in 2022.
This resulted in a merchandise trade surplus of Ksh37.14 billion ($267.77 million) for the review period, a 156.45 percent climb over the same period last year.
The widening gap in exports and imports largely helped with increased goods trade with Uganda amidst a drop with Tanzania, the data suggests.
A faster growth in exports to the continent than imports, economists say, protects job opportunities for locals and eases pressure on the shilling.
This has come at a time President William Ruto has taken a leading role in championing the removal of trade barriers among African countries to ease the movement of goods, services and labour through the integration of regional trading blocs.
The integration is aimed at creating the world’s largest single market of about 1.4 billion people with an estimated economic output of more than $3 trillion (Ksh415.2 trillion) under the ambitious African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
The trade diplomacy adopted by Dr Ruto is a continuation of a policy initiated by his predecessor, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, who on June 8, 2018, led the country in presenting documents ratifying the proposed Comesa-East African Community- Southern African Development Community tripartite free trade area to the Comesa secretariat.
Upon the attainment of the tripartite deal which will create a market of 27 countries, Nairobi plans to lead the way in pushing for more integration with other regional blocs including the Economic Community of West African States and the Maghreb [which covers Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, but excludes Egypt].
Analysts have, however, cited a weak business environment characterised by elevated interest rates, high and unpredictable tax rates as well as bureaucratic red tape in many African countries as the biggest hurdles to realizing the free flow of goods on the continent.
“Cultural and language barriers also make it tough to appreciate the market opportunities,” said Ken Gichinga, chief economist at Mentoria Economics.
Africa accounted for Ksh160.57 billion ($1.16 billion), or 19.41 percent, of Kenya’s Ksh827.20 billion ($5.96 billion) total trade value in the first quarter of the year, modestly growing from 18.27 percent in the prior year.
Uganda remained the country’s largest destination, accounting for nearly a third of goods exports to Africa.
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