US and Kenya talks could lead to trade deal

2020-02-09 14:48

The US and Kenya agreed this week to launch negotiations that could lead to the first bilateral trade deal with a sub-Saharan African country amid growing US concerns about China’s investments across the continent.

US President Donald Trump and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the intention to start formal talks on a trade agreement after a meeting at the White House.

Trump directed US trade representative Robert Lighthizer to issue a formal notification to Congress about the talks under the “fast-track” trade-negotiating law.

“We believe this agreement with Kenya will complement Africa’s regional integration efforts,” Lighthizer said, predicting broad bipartisan support from Congress.

The east African nation, which needs to boost exports to create jobs at home for millions of young people and bolster hard currency earnings, has seen an increase in US tourists, as well as growing investments by companies, such as Google.

Kenyatta told a forum at the US Chamber of Commerce that his country was keen to secure its economic future ahead of the expiry of the US African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan African countries to export thousands of products to the US without tariffs or quotas until 2025.

Both sides were eager to move forward quickly, he said.

A new trade deal could make Kenya a hub for US companies doing business in Africa and beyond, re-energising close ties established during Kenya’s struggle for independence, Kenyatta said.

“It is this shared common value – belief in freedom, democracy and enterprise – that makes me believe that the US can and should be the partner of choice for the African continent.”

Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs for the US Chamber of Commerce, said Kenya could serve as a key gateway for US companies seeking to expand in Africa. US-Kenyan trade amounts to $1 billion (R15 billion) now, but could grow substantially.

“Just announcing the agreement is going to be a huge boon for Kenya because investors are going to start looking at which country is locking in access to the US market,” said Nicole Bivens Collinson, a former senior US trade negotiator.

Betty Maina, Kenya’s designated trade minister, said US officials would travel to Kenya in May and Kenyatta hoped to complete the trade deal withintwo years.

The office of the trade representative said a meeting of the previously established US-Kenya Trade and Investment Working Group resulted in Kenya’s adoption of new food-safety protocols that allow wheat growers in Washington State, Oregon and Idaho access to Kenya’s $470 million wheat market for the first time in more than a decade.

It said it would publish US objectives for the talks 30 days before they begin. – Reuters

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March 29 2020