Speaker Wetang'ula appeals to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov over trade ties

Russia Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left( meets with Moses Wetangula, the Speaker of the National Assembly of Kenya, in Nairobi on May 29, 2023.

Photo credit: AFP

National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula has challenged the Russian government to improve its trade ties with Kenya to complement the long-standing bilateral relationship between the two countries dating back to 1963.

Speaking on Monday during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who paid him a courtesy call in his office at Parliament Buildings, Speaker Wetang’ula said that Kenya is yet to benefit from trade with Russia while indicating that Kenya is ready to play its role.

“Give us half of what you give to Sharm el- Sheik in Egypt or half of what you give to Turkey in terms of trade,” Speaker Wetang'ula told Mr Lavrov.

Sharm el-Sheik is a city in Egypt.

During the meeting, the two leaders also discussed Kenya's participation in the forthcoming Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum to be held in St Petersburg, Russia in July this year.

The Summit aims at endearing Russia to the African continent and will help bolster the policy of equal partnership with African people.

But even as Speaker Wetang’ula spoke, data from the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) posted on the parliamentary website, indicates that trade dynamics and prospects of Kenya in Russia and Eastern Europe have been on the rise in the recent past “due to bilateral trade agreements signed by the two countries recently.”

PBO, which offers professional advice to parliament and its committees on fiscal matters notes that in 2020, the total volume of trade between Kenya and Eastern Europe is about Sh59.6 billion with a trade deficit of Sh33.41 billion in favour of Russia.

Nonetheless, Mr Lavrov noted that the Russian government is on a plan to introduce visa free travel to his country to boost movement of investors and citizens of the two countries.

“Russia is working on introducing visa free travel to enable Kenyans to easily access our country for trade, medical services and education among others,” Mr Lavrov said.

He challenged the Kenyan government to draft a trade agreement to guide how Kenya desires to engage in trade with Russia and have it ratified by parliament for implementation. Russian Ambassador to Kenya Mr Dmitry Maksimychev was among the leaders present.

In their press briefing, the two leaders however, kept off the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis that has affected the world economy in terms of fuel, gas and grains supplies among others.  

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 22, saw the US and the Western European countries slap her with economic sanctions that have disrupted global trade linkages and supply chains leading to shortages in the market and an exponential rise in commodities prices.

It is not in sight when the war will end, though. Kenya and other African countries rely heavily on Ukraine and Russia for oil and gas, metals, minerals, chemical fertilizer as well as wheat production.

The war between the two Eastern Europe countries therefore, presents Kenya with a challenge that has equally threatened to plunge the global economy into a new crisis after Covid-19.

The PBO document shows that Ukraine is a major commodity producer particularly wheat and corn with Kenya and other East Africa countries’ imports from Russia and Ukraine at 90 percent as of 2020.  

War situation

Jointly with Russia, Ukraine accounts for about 29 percent of global wheat exports. Other than wheat, Ukraine and Russia are both major exporters of some of the world’s most basic foodstuffs- 19 percent of global corn supplies and 80 percent of global sunflower oil exports.

The war situation therefore exposes Kenya’s vulnerability since the major oil importers from Russia have opted for alternative sources like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) leading to supply shocks.

The energy sector fueled by oil and gas is one of the key drivers of the Kenyan economy supporting manufacturing and agricultural sectors, the key contributors to economic growth.

Therefore, higher prices means increased cost of production that invariably, is passed on to the consumer leading to the high cost of living currently witnessed in the country.

On Monday Speaker Wetang’ula indicated to the visiting Russian Foreign Minister that Kenya’s National Assembly “holds the pass to the trade ties for the country.”

“The House is ready to support efforts by the government to enhance trade with Russia," said Mr Wetang'ula adding; “our focus as a House is to ensure that we enact laws that make trade between Kenya and foreign countries improved and Russia is our target".

Mr Wetang’ula also asked Russia to support Kenya’s parliament to fully migrate to paperless operations of its business.

In an effort to comply with the new technology the Speaker said the House has introduced paperless transactions of its business but noted that it is yet to fully adopt the technology.

The Speaker also noted that although Russia has been a key supporter of the African continent, African leaders “are still being treated as spectators during international meetings hosted by foreign countries.”

"Russia's support to Africa has made the continent free but it is still worrying that the African agenda in international meetings has been forgotten and our leaders are always treated as spectators during such forums."

Mr Lavrov said that Russia has doubled scholarships for Kenyan students studying in Russia, noting that three schools in his country are offering Kiswahili as an examinable subject.

He also noted that Russia has continued to support humanitarian activities through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and that plans to promote tourism and Agriculture are in the pipeline.