Business Daily | 13 December 2021
US mum on Kenya trade pact talks
By Brian Ngugi
The US is mum yet again on the fate of a free trade pact after top American trade officials and their Kenyan counterparts held talks earlier in the week.
Separate statements issued by both Kenya’s Trade Cabinet secretary Betty Maina and her US trade chief Katherine Tai, after a virtual meeting last Tuesday did not provide any timelines for resuming the stalled talks on the deal signalling a persisting deadlock.
There has been growing unease in Nairobi about the delay by Joe Biden’s administration to conclude the deal.
Both Nairobi and Washington, however, emphasised deepening trade engagement between the two countries.
“During the meeting, both ministers expressed views on how to progress the trade and economic relationship between Kenya and the United States.
“Ambassador Tai lauded Kenya’s important leadership role in the African continent and the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to deepening the bilateral relationship,” said a statement released by Ms Tai’s US Trade Representative team in Washington after the meeting.
The statement said the two Trade ministers guided their senior teams in the identification of “creative approaches” to key issues that would align the ongoing relationship to the “worker-centred trade policy in the US-Kenya trade and investment relationship,” while at the same time strengthening the US-Kenya economic and trade ties.
“Ambassador Tai and Cabinet secretary Maina committed to continuing engagements and cooperating on areas of mutual interest between both countries, including climate change, vaccine access and regional integration efforts,” it added.
The Biden administration had earlier called for the objectives of the bilateral pact to be recast to recognise Biden’s agenda with some of the aims of the negotiations set by the Trump administration likely to be dropped.
Last Wednesday, President Biden nominated former chief executive of ICT firms Hewlett Packard and eBay Margaret Whitman as the US ambassador to Kenya. Her nomination comes amid growing unease in Nairobi about the Biden administration’s delay to conclude the free trade agreement with Kenya.
A trade agreement with Kenya, which would be the first US free trade deal in sub-Saharan Africa, comes amid growing concern about China’s investments across Africa.
The Biden administration is seeking to cut China’s share of the global trade.
Kenya and the US formally launched negotiations in July last year for a bilateral trade pact that the two economies hope could serve as a model for additional agreements across Africa.
Kenya wants to do a deal with Washington before the expiry of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which allows sub-Sahara states to export thousands of products to the US without tariffs or quotas until 2025.