China remains king on Kenya’s imports despite Ruto’s West shift

The country imported goods worth Sh126.1bn from the Far East country.

In Summary

•Kenya spent a total of Sh683.9 billion on imports in Q1 2024.

•During the period under review, Kenya’s total earnings from exports rose to Sh297.9 billion from Sh258.7 billion in Q4 of 2023.

Containers being offloaded from a ship at the Port of Mombasa /FILE
Containers being offloaded from a ship at the Port of Mombasa /FILE

Kenya continued to heavily source its imports from China and Asia at large, despite President William Ruto’s efforts to push for more bilateral relations with the West.

Trade data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows the country imported goods worth Sh126.1 billion from China in the first quarter of this year (January-March), as the Far East country retained its position as the top source for imports.

This was however a drop from Sh134.1 billion worth of goods sourced from China in the fourth quarter of last year (October-December), even as China continued to offer cheaper alternatives for household goods and other merchandise.

India was the second top source for the country’s imports which totalled Sh72 billion during the period, a slight drop from Sh72.4 billion.

UAE, a key source for petroleum products came in third with the country spending Sh67 billion to import goods from the Middle East state.

Malaysia, a top source for palm oil used in the cooking oil manufacturing industry, and the US closed the top five ranks with Kenya spending Sh42.8 billion and Sh41.1 billion, respectively, on imports from the two markets.

Other notable sources were Oman (Sh28.1 billion), Japan (Sh27.5 billion), South Africa (Sh21.8 billion) Belgium (Sh16.2 billion) and neighbouring Tanzania where the country spent Sh15.5billion on imports, mainly food commodities.

Volume of trade in first quarter of 2024 amounted to Sh981.8 billion reflecting an increase of 19.4 per cent from first quarter of 2023.

The rise was occasioned by increases of 28.0 per cent and 16.0 per cent in total exports and imports, respectively.

"Albeit the growth in the volume of trade, the trade deficit worsened from Sh357.0 billion in the first quarter of 2023 to Sh 386.1 billion in the quarter under review," KNBS notes in its latest report.

By continent, Asia was the leading source with Sh438.9 billion being spend by Kenyan traders and government on imports, followed by Middle East (Sh126 billion), Europe (Sh106.3 billion), Africa (Sh71.9 billion), while imports from America, including Canada, Brazil and other countries cost Sh65.1 billion.

This, as Kenya spent a total of Sh683.9 billion on imports amid a further dip on trade deficit, despite increased exports and reduced spending on imports from Sh722.7 billion in quarter four of 2023.

The value of imports during a similar period last year was Sh589.8 billion.

Africa was the country’s biggest export market where earnings grew to Sh113.9 billion, up from Sh112.4 billion.

The Far East, where Kenya has recently stepped up exports of agricultural products including avocadoes, earned the country Sh80.3 billion, up from Sh71 billion.

The value of exports to Europe also increased to Sh75.9 billion from Sh56.1 billion the previous quarter, with cut flowers and agricultural products being key exports.

Exports to the Middle East equally increased as the value went up to Sh23.6 billion from Sh16.7 billion the previous quarter.

During the period under review, Kenya’s total earnings from exports rose to Sh297.9 billion from Sh258.7 billion in Q4 of 2023.

Kenya’s key exports, both regionally, in Africa and abroad, include tea, horticulture, coffee, articles of apparel and clothing, titanium ores and concentrates, tobacco, medicinal and pharmaceutical products, iron and steel, essential oils, articles of plastics, soda ash, leather, among other goods.

President William Ruto has in recent times stepped up up charm offensive on Western nations, with the US being seen as one of his biggest allies after a recent State visit.

Kenya and the US are pushing for a Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) with a deal expected before November.

Kenya and EU this week also commenced implementation of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), after 10 years of negotiations.

The EPA enables duty-free quota-free market access for Kenyan exports to the $13.9 trillion European market. 

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