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US firms give condition for free trade deal with Kenya

Business Daily | 4 May 2020

US firms give condition for free trade deal with Kenya

American firms have asked Kenya to fix its weak intellectual property laws as one of the conditions for backing the “model trade agreement” being negotiated by the two states.

In a letter to President Donald Trump’s administration, the US firms, among them distributors of movies, software and books want Kenya to guarantee protection of their patents and trademarks ahead of the proposed free trade agreement (FTA).

“Kenya’s Attorney-General Kihara Kariuki recently highlighted the creative industries’ contribution to Kenya’s economy, citing a study estimating the contribution to be 5.3 percent of GDP and stating, “The protection of the copyrights will essentially put money into the pockets of authors, producers and all creators”,” the letter reads in part.

“Yet Kenya’s copyright legal and enforcement frameworks remain deficient, and piracy, particularly online, remains a significant barrier for the creative industries in Kenya.”

In 2019, Kenya enacted an amendment to its Copyright Act intended to address some of the challenges of the digital age.

But the US firms said while the new law provides rights holders with some important protections, there are concerns regarding the scope of those protections, including whether they are consistent with international standards and best practice. “These negotiations should be a catalyst for the Government of Kenya to take the necessary steps to modernise Kenya’s copyright legal and enforcement regimes, and improve its marketplace for legitimate digital trade in copyright protected materials,” the firms through umbrella lobby the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) said.

IIPA is a US private sector coalition, formed in 1984, of trade associations representing over 3,200 US companies produce and distribute copyrightable content like entertainment and educational software, motion pictures and television programming.

The two countries have from April been negotiating an FTA, “which serve as a model for the rest of Sub Saharan African countries” according to White House officials.

President Trump’s administration in March asked American and Kenyan firms to share their views on the proposed fresh free trade window as it lays grounds for the pact.

“IIPA is hopeful that the US-Kenya negotiations will both build on the positive achievements of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), and depart from certain provisions that are problematic. If this is accomplished, the Agreement can set the bar for a high-level agreement that is truly built for the digital age, including much-needed copyright protections and enforcement provisions.”

Kenyan firms have backed the free trade push, shrugging off concerns that goods produced cheaply by advanced US factories could push some of them out of business.

 source: Business Daily