The opening up of Japan by American Commodore Perry in 1853, though forcibly, demonstrates the importance of international trade, diplomacy, and openness. The rise of Japan into an international trade power has origins in this famous visit. Japan benefitted from western technology, knowledge, and innovations. Can this be replicated without warships? By arranging visits to other countries by both public and private sector leaders, they shall not only benchmark but open new possibilities in trade, knowledge sharing, and even diplomacy.
In a twist of events, the UK, got new leaders just as Kenya was getting one. Lizz Truss easily beat Rishi Sunak to the premiership. Curiously, Rishi’s father grew up in Kenya where Dr . William Ruto won the closely contested polls. The UK also got a king. We would therefore ask what trajectory trade between UK and Kenya will take. Moreso after Brexit and Africa free trade area.
That was the objective of the Bramex-led trade mission to the UK.
The mission brought together policymakers, think tanks, and business people to network, exchange ideas and address concerns.
Sadly it coincided with the death of the Queen, whose connection to Kenya started in 1952, where she became the Queen.
Kenya, according to Lucy White from the International Economic Development, has some strategic advantages with logistics. It has an efficient port that serves the East African region. And something to export to the UK. That includes fresh produce and flowers, among others.
Lucy also noted the absence of a trade envoy to Kenya after Theo Clarke resigned.
The UK has traditionally been an industrial hub, despite the decline of “Made in England.” Brexit gave UK trade with her former colonies new impetus. This was buttressed by the economic partnership agreement(EPA).
Robin George from the Boston Consulting Group explained why Kenyan agricultural exports have declined in the UK market for the last decade.
Both Robin and Lucy White noted the role of government and quasi-government institutions in furthering trade relationships.
The Bramex-led mission visited Birmingham, the industrial heartland of the UK. Remember Thika being dubbed one time as Birmingham of Kenya? A metal exchange left no doubt about how the foundation of industrialization is laid.
It is hoped that Kenyan businessmen and women on this trip learned valuable lessons on how they can enhance trade between the two countries firsthand. The governments can facilitate trade by providing public goods like rail, roads, and ports and simplifying the regulatory framework. Trade is about you and me. We deliver what is to be exported or imported and what is to be consumed.
We ought to be conscious of emerging trends like the shift to organic food, climatic change, and the belief that trade is better than aid.
Future benchmarking trips to other trading partners of Kenya are needed. In addition, the delegations should include more East Africans to see opportunities open beyond our borders.
Finally, the new leaders in both UK and Kenya are open-market-oriented. I see them open new frontiers of trade. Are we ready ourselves?
And where would you like us to visit next?