Rethink planned imports ban to boost industry

For a country that has over the years cherished and promoted a free market economy, the plan to ban imports from competing with local products sounds out of tune.

President William Ruto and Trade Secretary Moses Kuria on Friday declared that importation of items that can be manufactured locally, especially steel and iron products, will be prohibited from next year.

Such a move may be well-intended, as President Ruto has explained that it is meant to protect and benefit local manufacturers. It is, indeed, true that Kenyan companies have been facing stiff competition from imports, leading to the closure of some of them. However, an imports ban is bound to have serious repercussions.

While the President says the government is in the final stages of drafting this protectionist policy, this is an abrupt anti-business move. It is going to adversely affect exporters who have already invested in logistics, including distribution, to make the goods available to Kenyans. Instead of stifling competition, the government should consider granting incentives to local producers to enable them to compete favourably.

The consumer, as the saying goes, is king and his or her choice is dependent on quality and price. Instead of adopting uncompetitive measures, the government should instead create an enabling environment for business to thrive.

The trouble with such protectionist measures is that they are likely to spark retaliation from other markets where Kenyan firms sell their goods.

Kenya needs to trade with other countries, including its immediate neighbours in the East African Community.

What is needed is fair competition between the manufactures to provide consumers the quality products that give value for their money.

Kenya is also a signatory to international treaties and conventions that promote free trade. They include the World Trade Organisation, which regulates and facilitates international trade. With cooperation within the United Nations system, governments use the WTO to establish, revise and enforce international trade rules.

It does not make much sense to force Kenyans or any other person to buy substandard products just because they are locally produced. This is why competition is essential in enhancing the quality of products.

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