Kenya and European Union (EU) have inked an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that seeks to grant Kenya’s exports duty-free status and unhindered access to the European bloc.

The momentous signing ceremony took place at State House, Nairobi, in a process overseen by President William Ruto and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The EPA has been hailed as the most ambitious trade agreement ever inked by the EU with a developing country, and is expected to set new benchmarks in sustainability provisions.

The deal tackles climate and environmental protection, labour rights and gender equality among others towards a more equitable and environmentally responsible trading bond.

EU is Kenya's primary export destination and the second-largest trading partner and the EPA is set to amplify bilateral trade opportunities with Kenya anticipated to reap mega benefits.

The total bilateral trade between the EU and Kenya increased by 27 per cent in 2018 to €3.3 billion (Sh555.5 billion) in 2022, according to records from both Kenya Government and EU.

When it comes into force, the EPA will grant businesses in Kenya and exporters unrestrained access to the EU market, fostering increased economic activity.

Furthermore, the agreement is expected to encourage EU investment in Kenya, providing a foundation of legal certainty and stability.

Recognizing Kenya's role as a sustainability leader on the African continent, the EPA aligns with the nation's commitment to climate change initiatives.

Kenya, along with the EU, co-leads the Coalition of Trade Ministers on Climate, showcasing a shared dedication to environmental responsibility.

The agreement embodies the EU's new approach to trade and sustainable development, marking a significant milestone in its trade relations with developing nations.

The meticulously crafted EPA takes into consideration Kenya's development needs by allowing a gradual opening of its market over an extended period.

Special provisions safeguarding agriculture, food security, and infant industries have been incorporated, ensuring a balanced approach that supports the nation's economic growth.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed the significance of the agreement, stating, "Kenya is a key partner for the European Union in Africa. The new Economic Partnership Agreement will boost bilateral trade even further, support investments and create good jobs in Kenya."

Following seven months of consultations, both sides came up with and signed an initial document in June, which was later approved by the European Union Council last week.

The newly signed EPA is now scheduled to be scrutinized by the Kenyan parliament while it is also transmitted to the European Union Parliament for approval before actualization.

Once it comes into force, the milestone EPA will enhance EU-Kenya relations and open the door for other East African Community (EAC) nations to join the agreement in the future.

"This agreement that we are signing today leaves the door open, and I say, wide open, for our EAC partners to join," intimated President William Ruto. 

The EU is an economic and political union of 27 countries and operates a single market which allows free movement of goods, capital, services and people between member states.

“Today's agreement heralds a new dawn where Kenyan goods gain immediate duty-and quota-free access to the European market. Over time, European goods will also gain preferential access to the Kenyan market,” said Investments, Trade and Industry Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Miano.

Kenya mainly exports tea, coffee, flowers, fruits and vegetables to EU, accounting for 21 per cent of its total exports while it purchases machinery, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals from EU.