Kenya must streamline trade diplomacy structures before vital UNCTAD meet
It was surprising to see the subtle announcement of changes in Kenya’s trade diplomacy structure so soon after the World Trade Organisation 10th Ministerial Conference (WTO-MC10) in Nairobi last year. A keen observer could not miss the transfer of international trade activities and functions to the Ministry of Industrialisation in evaluations of the conference.
Considering the tone of celebration from the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Amina Mohamed, this development could be perceived as a policy indicator that all may not have gone well in terms of agreements reached at the conference. Alternative perspectives of WTO-MC10 based on the text of the agreement point to the fact that essential aspects of the Doha Development Round were not conclusively dealt with. Despite Ms Mohamed terming the conference a success, the outcomes of the meeting point to a very different reality.
Foremost, it is notable that export subsidies were not outlawed; rather the Nairobi agreement simply put a cap on existing levels of export support. Secondly, domestic agricultural subsidies, which are the most trade-distorting policies, were not open to discussion by rich countries as they were actively resisted by powerful participants such as the US.
The Nairobi Outcome therefore left damaging programmes such as the 2014 US Farm Bill unaffected and in one piece, mostly because they did not feature in any discussions. Thirdly, the reaffirmation of the Bali Decision on public stockholding postponed the desire for a permanent solution to challenges faced in ensuring food security.
Also, the much celebrated agreement on information technology (IT) has very limited gains for Africa or most other developing countries. While it lowers costs of a few IT products, it eliminates the possibility for poor governments to raise revenues by imposing tariffs. Again, the biggest winners of the ITA are developed countries that heavily manufacture IT products.
Looking at the exempted tariff lines under the Least Developed Country (LDC) package, close to 90 per cent of the goods exported by poor countries will not be covered by the deal. Finally, the WTO decision-making principle of “one country, one vote” was cast aside to allow a few rich or powerful countries to undermine the Doha Round at Nairobi.
Developing countries therefore have an uphill task in negotiations that will follow in Geneva without the strong set of principles or framework that was provided for by the Doha Round. Many hopeful participants left with a gloomy sense that the WTO-MC10 was converted into the graveyard of development issues.
Lacked coherent strategy
All these point to a glaring failure of the Jubilee administration to think through a coherent strategy for economic and trade diplomacy.
In taking over from the previous administration, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his team failed to complete the inherited debate that no matter where the country looked towards for its external relationships, its policy focus was either a matter of trade, economics or commerce. In terms of wording, trade, economic, or