DIPLOMATIC DISCOURSE

Ireland will speak for Kenya at EU, ease trade — envoy

Having reopened its embassy in Kenya after 26 years, Ireland is keen to be a reliable partner in the high stakes diplomacy of life after Brexit

In Summary

• Trade between the two countries is at $160 million a year and has grown by over 20 per cent since Ireland reopened its embassy in Kenya.

• Once primarily an agriculture-based economy, Ireland opened up its economy and attracted foreign direct investments, lessons it is sharing with KenInvest and Kepsa.

Irish Ambassador to Kenya Fionnuala Quinlan during an interview with the Star onJuly 22 at her office at the embassy in Westlands, Nairobi
Irish Ambassador to Kenya Fionnuala Quinlan during an interview with the Star onJuly 22 at her office at the embassy in Westlands, Nairobi
Image: WILFRED NYANGARESI

Even with Brexit, Ireland will voice for Kenya at the negotiating table at the European Union.

The new Irish Ambassador Fionnula Quinlan, in a wide-ranging interview with the Star last Monday, said, “The EPA [Economic Partnership Agreement] issue, for instance, is something we will be keen to see finalised and have Kenya play a bigger role at the global market, being the powerhouse of the East African region."

The EPA, a pact negotiated between the EU and various regions, eliminates barriers to the free movement of goods, services and investment between countries, in this case between the European bloc and the EAC.

 
 
 

On how Kenya’s produce can access the Irish market, Quinlan said, “I think that’s a matter to be discussed at the EU level. Ireland is part of the EU and thus the single market. Certainly, Ireland is a good partner to Kenya and in this regard and in terms of partnership agreements and so forth, we will be a voice for Kenya at the negotiating table,” she said.

“The EU has regulations and laws and Ireland can’t change or modify them. But when issues come to the EU table, we will speak for Kenya.”

Despite the negotiations being concluded, only Kenya and Rwanda have so far signed the EPA, while Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi are hesitant over different domestic issues.

Britain has until October 31 to leave the European Union, and new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to deliver Brexit, which he campaigned for.

A study by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in April found that a no-Brexit deal for the UK would see Kenyan exports drop by an initial $20.6 million (Sh2 billion), making it one of the worst-hit economies in Africa, which UK High Commission in Kenya has denied.

UNCTAD said Britain and its future trading partners need to expedite bilateral deals if they are to avoid the costs of exiting the EU without a deal.

 

Ambassador Quinlan also spoke on Kenya-Irish ties on trade, agriculture and education.

What will be the impact of Brexit on your country?

We respect the outcome of the referendum and the decision of the British people, but it wasn’t an outcome that Ireland would have wished to see. We really believe the EU is stronger with the UK in it. But now that it has decided to leave by the October 31 deadline, we have a number of real concerns.

One, around our economy, which might be badly affected if and when Brexit goes ahead. This is especially if there will be a hard Brexit — Britain leaving without an agreement. That will be a real challenge for Ireland because a lot of our exports go to the UK and, inasmuch as we have done a lot to diversify our market, there are still sectors that are doing big business with the UK. There is a lot of contingency planning going on around that.

The other is the peace process. There was a long-running and difficult dispute in Northern Ireland and thousands of lives were lost, and it is now more than 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, which effectively brought peace.

It did away with the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK. So when Britain leaves Europe, that border will be the EU’s only land border with Britain. That will be very challenging, given that so much work went into removing the border infrastructure, such as customs, to ensure seamless movement between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Our fear is that if that border is reinstated, it will threaten peace in the Island of Ireland.

But there will be some upsides, given we will be the only speaking English speaking country in the EU with Common Laws system, with a globalised economy, and maybe more international companies will look more to Dublin than London.

What incentivised Ireland to reopen its embassy in Kenya after 26 years?

We have a lot of similarities. We are both former British colonies, we both had the struggle for Independence. Ireland has also suffered from poverty in the past, immigration has also been an issue for the Irish people. Our ties go back 100 years through missionaries, supporting the Kenya airline to get off the ground.

There was always the wish all through the 26 years to reopen. We got to a position where economic realities allowed us to do so, recognising the political links and an opportunity to build on them. Kenya is very important for Ireland and the EU and a big player in geopolitical terms. For all of those reasons, we wanted to be back. We also have about 1,500 citizens living here.

Which areas are you focusing on in the Kenya-Ireland relations?

Our help to Kenya is around three key platforms. First is private sector development. In this, we have been sharing our experiences in developing the private sector. We were a primarily agriculture-based economy for many years and put a lot of effort to be one of the most open societies and economies in the world and successful in attracting foreign direct investments. We are sharing these lessons with KenInvest and Kepsa. We have also established Business Ireland In Kenya, which is important in networking to promote trade between Kenya and Ireland.

Trade between the two countries is at $160 million a year, and has grown by over 20 per cent, which is about $160 million a year since Ireland reopened its embassy in Kenya.

Ireland's help to Kenya is around three key platforms. See story https://bit.ly/2YFFifn

The second is agribusiness. Kenya is a huge agricultural producer, which is also part of the Big Four agenda in ensuring food security.

President [Uhuru] Kenyatta asked us to work with potato farmers, and we have a programme in Nyandarua. We are also working with fisheries and dairy sectors through some funding streams. In May, we had four agribusiness companies establish in Kenya, and they are working towards trade and investment. Already, there are 15 Irish companies that have invested here.

The third sector is education, which is one of the key flagship programmes.  For more than 50 years, Ireland has had a programme called Young Scientists Ireland. The programme embeds science, technology, engineering and math skills in secondary schools. Every year, there is an outreach to schools to engage them in science and make them caretakers in science. We are working with the Education ministry and our main sponsors, and have now launched Young Scientists Kenya.

What is the outreach in Kenyan schools?

President Kenyatta came along last year and he was impressed and he became the patron. He also asked us to increase the outreach of the programme from 10 counties to all the 47.

At the exhibition that will be at the KICC, between August 3-7, more than 200 schools representing all the 47 counties and 400 students will demonstrate their projects in science, engineering and maths.

The winners will go for a boot camp in December, where they will get a lot of mentorship and support to turn their ideas into potential commercial projects. The overall winners will go to Ireland in January to participate in the Irish science competition.

Ireland is aiding the Kenya Invest Authority to establish a one-stop centre service for investors in Kenya. What is the status of this initiative?

They have set up a one-stop-shop, and the idea is if you are coming into Kenya to open a business or to invest, you can go to one place and find all the information about business registration, register it, deal with immigration authorities and meet the requirements as well as meet the experts. In one day, you are able to get the information you need, register and have work permits. This is to make it easier for foreign investors to come in and establish, which is critical in creating jobs for Kenya.

Are there Kenyan businesses in Ireland, and how easy it to establish there?

It’s very easy to do business in Ireland. We rank highly in the ease of doing business because we are an open economy and we have a huge amount of foreign direct investment in our economy.

There are various interested businesses, and a number of them visited in October 2018 as part of a trade delegation led by Trade CS Peter Munya, and they met a number of Irish partners, and those discussions have been continuing towards partnership.

They also went for the Africa-Ireland Economic Forum, which Ireland holds every second year, designed to support Africans seeking opportunities with information. We are open and keen to build trade with Kenya.

During the visit, Munya signed a Letter of Intent with Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney. What is there in it for the two countries?

The agreement is yet to be finalised. It basically means that we will continue partnering and seek opportunities for two-way trade and investment. There is also work to sign an agreement on double taxation, which will further facilitate trade. Our Deputy Prime Minister met President Kenyatta and that was part of their discussions as well.

Has Enterprise Ireland opened in Kenya, and if yes, what will its work be?

Enterprise Ireland is the state agency charged with helping Irish companies to expand overseas and exports. They now have a dedicated person present in Kenya, working closely with the embassy in increasing opportunities for Irish companies.

Ireland has top-of-the-class universities, English-speaking and in a safe country.

Even when Brexit goes ahead, we will be the only English-speaking member of the EU. Education is an area with great potential for growth. Enterprise Ireland is the body charged with increasing the number of students coming to Ireland, and they are sending some people to Kenya at the end of this month to look at how we can increase that number.